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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Fight Begins

After New Jersey disenfranchised women in 1807, no women in the United States had voting rights. But organized efforts to win women’s suffrage did not begin for quite some time. Long before women were fighting for the vote, they were fighting for human rights.

The fight for women’s rights has its roots in the Abolitionist Movement. In the 1830s, many women formed and joined female antislavery associations. Although Angelina and Sarah Grimke had been raised on a slave-owning plantation in South Carolina, the sisters were among the first women to speak publicly against slavery. In 1836, Angelina published a pamphlet, An Appeal to Christian Women of the South, calling on all southern women to join the effort to abolish slavery. This did not go over well, and South Carolina leaders threatened to put Angelina in prison if she returned home.    
The Grimke Sisters
The next year, the General Association of Congregational Ministers of Massachusetts issued a pastoral letter, primarily directed at the Grimke sisters, denouncing women preachers and reformers. This epistle prompted the Grimkes and other female activists to crusade for women’s rights in addition to abolition of slavery.

In the same year, at age 17, Susan B. Anthony collected anti-slavery petitions. She had grown up in a Quaker family that was strongly committed to social equality. Anthony became the New York state agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1856, while she was active in the women’s rights movement.

Anthony wasn’t alone in fighting for women’s rights and against slavery. In 1840, Elizabeth Cady married reformer Henry Stanton and immediately went to London to attend the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention. Upon her arrival, she was shocked to learn that women were barred from attending the assembly. She joined with Lucretia Mott and other women in objecting to their exclusion on account of their sex.

This was just the beginning for Stanton. At the first Women’s Rights convention in the United States held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, she proposed a long list of reforms to protect women and to give them equal rights. Among these rights, was equal suffrage, an idea so radical that it spurred heated debate. In the end, inclusion of women’s suffrage was adopted, and this convention is often seen as the birthplace of the movement for Woman Suffrage (as it was originally called). A report of this convention was published as the Declaration of Sentiments.

Although Woman Suffrage was now on the agenda, the fight for women’s rights was much broader. And, over the next two decades, the cause became inextricably linked to temperance and abolition of slavery.

In 1851, Susan B. Anthony met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and they formed a partnership for social reform that would last for the rest of their lives. The following year, they founded the New York Women's State Temperance Society after Anthony was not allowed to speak at a temperance conference because she was female. At the time, women were considered the property of their husbands. Consequently, women had no legal recourse when their husbands beat or abused them. Because such abuse commonly occurred when men were drunk, abstinence was seen as a way to curb intoxication and thus make women safer.

When the Civil War began in 1861, most women put aside women’s rights and woman suffrage activities to help the war effort. However, Anthony and Stanton continued their work for social justice. In 1863, they organized the Women’s Loyal National League to work for a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery. The league accomplished the largest petition drive in United States history up to that time, collecting nearly 400,000 signatures in support of the abolition of slavery.

Anthony and Stanton’s efforts intensified after the war. In 1866, they joined with Lucy Stone and Frederick Douglass to establish the American Equal Rights Association in 1866. This group campaigned for equal rights both for women and African Americans. 


Congress introduced the Fourteenth Amendment, extending the liberties and rights granted by the Bill of Rights to former slaves. This amendment included the first use of the word male in the Constitution, defining citizens as “male.” Women’s rights activists strongly objected and petitioned Congress to change the language. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote, “If that word ‘male’ be inserted, it will take us a century at least to get it out.”

The amendment passed Congress and was sent to the states for ratification with the qualification of ‘male’ intact. This posed a dilemma for the advocates for women’s rights. Did they support the rights of freedman citizenship at the expense of their own cause? Although they objected to the exclusion of women, they stopped short of calling for non-ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.

 In 1868, the fourteenth amendment was ratified.

Coming next month: The women’s suffrage movement crystalizes.

Previous installments:
Voting in Colonial America:


Ann Markim

    Buy Links:      Paperback at Amazon    Amazon Kindle

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Medieval Ghosts, plus my own medieval ghost story

Did people in the Middle Ages believe in ghosts? They certainly believed in restless spirits, which they called revenants, from the Latin meaning ‘to return’. It was believed that the unquiet dead, particularly those who had died by violence or by reason of a grudge, or those who would not give up strong passions and carnal pleasures, would return to haunt the living. These revenants might appear within a graveyard or in a particular area, known to them in life, and terrorize the living.

They also believed that the dead could be commanded to rise again and spirits or demons compelled to do a wizard’s bidding, through the dark art of necromancy. A surprising number of priests were interested in these dubious practices as a means of gaining power or knowledge. Priests might also seek to exorcise spirits possessing people, by means of prayer or sacred herbs or charms.

Vampires, however, do not really make an appearance until the fourteenth century. Why then?

In 1348 the Black Death struck Europe. Thousands died and thousands of rotting corpses had to be buried, often in mass graves. Sights of these bodies was often grisly and bloody, and so the idea of the vampire, feeding on the blood of the living, came into force.

In 'Dark Maiden' I have a woman who is tormented by a lusty revenant who comes to her bed and tries to lie with her. Yolande, my heroine, learns that in this case the restless dead is the woman's husband. As an exorcist, Yolande takes certain steps to ensure that his widow is no longer plagued. You can find out what she does in the novel.

Read Chapter One here.

Stories about ghosts have been popular since the middle ages. The Monk of Byland wrote several of these stories down in the 15th century. You can read more here

In honour of the old tradition of telling ghosts stories, especially in the dark days of winter, here is my own medieval ghost story, "Her Solstice Boy"


                                         Painting of Sheep in snow by Joseph Farquharson.)

                                                                 Her Solstice Boy

    Marguerite pressed her chapped knuckles deeper into her old patched cloak. She was muddle-headed tonight, her head full of nonsense. Of course she was worried: who would not be? She must endure her hopes and— yes— her fears, endure this blistering cold. Brought up to lonely country self-reliance, Marguerite had learned early not to complain.
    The priest might have something to say if he knew she came back here at this time every year. He might have tried to stop her, if he had known what she planned to do tonight.
    Best to hurry, or she would miss the boy.
    Marguerite knew it was her child, her son by David. Peter had his father’s loping walk, her own skill with animals. He might have been a shepherd like herself.
    Come midwinter, he would appear on this stretch of Carter’s Track. To send a child, his own son, to such a lonely place with only sheep for company! And David, always so careful....
    David Fletcher’s care. Now that their affair was over, Marguerite could see the signs, subtle as animal tracks, that should have forewarned her.
    She had been a young widow and David a bachelor, but he had never formally paid court to her. When they walked out in the fields, he never gathered her flowers, or sang to her. They never ate—unless she paid the pie-man. (She and David never went into ale-houses. He had said often enough, in that hearty, wrist-band-tapping way of his, that she was no brewster.) He never thanked her when she treated them. It was just another way of saving money, of hoarding that last silver pound in his thin leather money pouch.
    There were other signs, too. David was never disappointed when she had to call off a walk because of her shepherding work. “Watch out for a fletcher who does not have to trim his fingernails,” her old neighbour once remarked sourly, spitting out of the open door of her cottage onto one of Marguerite’s beloved but struggling herb-beds, often neglected because she had no time.
    David was a good lover, though, greedy and earthy, qualities Marguerite could understand and even appreciate. When she told him she was pregnant (smiling shyly because she was twenty-two, already once widowed and had almost given up hope of starting a family) David laughed and slapped her rump. He talked for a long time about the coin and treasure advantages of her being a mother and later rode away from her home without a backward look.
    With the grind of lambing time and her own morning sickness, it was three months before she went to his house, close on the edge of town. Nearing the outbuildings, her ancient nag was forced off the track by a huge pair of horses, pulling a wagon. Sitting beside Fletcher in his new, expensive cart was a dark-haired woman. Marguerite recognised her as Catherine de Tilsby, one of the tournament and boar hunting set, whose father had made good in the French wars and who had flocks of sheep far larger than hers.
    Marguerite was too proud ever to visit David again.
    Peter was born in the depths of winter, when her cottage was cut off by snow. Warmed faintly by the fire in the kitchen beneath her bed-chamber, she laboured alone to bring him into the world and afterwards kept him by her own efforts. He was all she had.
    For three years David Fletcher did not acknowledge his son. Then he simply stole Peter from her.
    She and Peter had been out with the sheep. There were sudden, heavy snows, too deep for any ox to plough through. Near the top of Carter’s Track, she was forced to walk the rest of the way with Peter on her back. He was a big three-year-old, heavy in his winter cloak—the same russet colour as her own—and strong boots. How had she lost him to Fletcher? Why could she never remember?
    Snow when Peter was born, and snow now, when she was seeking him.....
    It was quiet on the track. Drifted snow burst soft as puffballs under her heels. Her faded dress swung heavy with damp. A tree branch lolled down, dropping hoar onto the back of her neck, cold and sudden as a blade.
    That barking dog— ahead or behind? “Who is there?” she called out, cupping her hands round her mouth. “Who is it?”
    Marguerite quickened her steps. Nothing mattered except seeing the child, her Solstice Boy.
    Every year since she lost him, she had been drawn back to Carter’s Track. For some uncounted time there was nothing, but then a year or so ago he had begun to appear, a nine-year-old boy. That must have been his age when he died. Died. How had Peter died, and why? David Fletcher had not seen fit to tell her. She did not even know where her son was buried.
    His haunting always began with warmth: a thawing of her hands and face; the taste of summer in her mouth. Sometimes the strange spectral flock that was with him ran ahead, at times he came first, and always that ruddy glow about him, as though he were still the healthiest child alive.
    Each year she got closer to him. This year she would try to speak to him, tell him who she was—Could a ghost hear? Half-sick with mingled anxiety and hope, Marguerite’s stomach churned.

    Peter ran with outstretched arms, jinking from side to side to usher on the strays. (His father said he could not spare Peter a sheepdog.) Grey woolly rumps working furiously, black legs butting out channels in the snow, the flock waded forward. At its head, bleating and grumbling, David and Catherine Fletcher’s prize ewe, Round Molly, bobbed her polished horns and sounded the bell about her neck.
    Peter did not like Carter’s Track, especially the point where the trees bent over the narrow path and their branches scraped together, sharpening each other’s edges like whetstones. Catherine Fletcher claimed there had been a murder near here, and Peter believed her. When she looked at him like that, narrow and sharp as a needle, Peter doubted that she was really his mother.
    Something in the woods.... The boy hated leaving the open. He ran between wall-and-tree-shadows, whirling his arms, afraid to shout. A warm black face touched once against his leg and he threw the beast round with unusual roughness. Faster, faster he drove the flock, the sheep a lurching blur of motion. Outside his reach and control, Round Molly’s bell rattled like a pebble in an old metal cup, a noise horribly loud.
    Next time he would refuse to do this. He would not tread Carter’s Track again, never at sunset, never in winter. Was it footsteps dashing alongside him, or the patter of thawing ice? Do not look, do not look, his legs pounded out the warning. No choice but to go on: his father was waiting for him. “Girls younger than you walk miles, herding geese to London, be thankful you have sheep,” was his father’s glib comment, when Peter had protested about being sent along alone. “I am not wasting money, sending a waged man with you along a bit of a mile animal drive.”
“I agree with your father,” his mother Catherine had said at once, sharp and disapproving,  “and they are the sheep I brought to this marriage.”
Stretched above Peter’s head, the net of tree-branches chattered softly, applauding David and Catherine Fletchers’ good sense.

    A frozen leaf fell, striking its tree in tinkling bell-clarity. Marguerite stretched out her hands, beseeching the red evening. Oh God, was she too late? Peter, where was he? Was he in danger? She must run, reach him—
    Heat seared through Marguerite, blasting sight and breath. With streaming eyes she sought and saw him up ahead: her son, running with the flock. His hair was yellow and he was tall. Strange, how a ghost could grow each year, just like an ordinary boy.
    He was now less than twenty feet away from her. Marguerite held out her arms and shouted. Finally her question—how she had lost him—would be answered when they touched. Her memories would be complete.

    The tree chattering increased. Darkness groped for him but Peter kicked it away, spraying snow high in the air. Tiring but needing to keep running, the boy grabbed two great handfuls of wool. Mouths and teeth closed into his hand. The ticks’ heads still clung to the wound after Peter had pulped the bloated bodies into the sheep’s back. Lost in the blackness, Round Molly’s bell clanked and twanged like the heavy bow which his father enjoyed using to despatch foxes and other vermin.
    Peter stumbled to a halt, breathless in the chill air. Half the flock turned and slithered back up Carter’s Road. The boy tried to stop the stampede of bodies and then heard his father’s pride, Round Molly, careering off in the opposite direction. Her bell rang madly for several moments before the sound snapped off and was killed. Afraid at what he would find, the boy started after her.

    He was coming closer. Already Marguerite could see that his eyes were still as blue as hers. This year it was right that she speak to him; he must know her. She would be as familiar to him as his own face. “Do not be afraid,” Marguerite whispered, “I am with you now.” She had waited so long for this, their summer reunion in winter.

    The darkness immediately ahead of him flexed, becoming an arm, a head. Terror-struck, the boy watched Round Molly as the ewe passed straight through the growing shadow. The contours of the shadow-body rippled, and then it began to solidify. The grey arm lifted and was moving to touch him. Its reaching fingers gleamed palely, like glow-worms.
    Peter yelled and charged forward, thinking only of how Round Molly had escaped the thing.

    She was the ghost, she—
    Death is too terrible to remember. The dead forget their own deaths, unless they are touched by the living. The blazing warmth of her son, his body thrusting through hers, scorched Marguerite, stamped her with one last terrible recollection. The missing link in her chain of memories, the final stage of her journey along Carter’s Track.
    David had met her here, ten winters back. About the time when it began to be whispered that Catherine Fletcher was rich only in money, barren in everything else.
    David threatened her with his bow and a knife. She refused to give him Peter until he fired over their heads, a hissing arrow shot in the semi-darkness. Fear for her son made her give Peter up, kicking and shrieking, to his father.
    Struggling with Peter, Fletcher dropped his bow in the snow and Marguerite surged forward in a reckless lunge. Her fingers ripped at Fletcher’s bulging money pouch, tearing the old leather, spilling the contents. She snatched hold of his arm, clawing at his face, desperate. “Peter!” she screamed, staggering and clutching her side.
    At first she thought Fletcher had punched her, until she felt the blood.
    Reliving her final moments—the shortening of breath, the bloom of pain spreading up through stomach and breast—Marguerite watched helplessly as her present, living, thirteen-year-old son shrank away. “Look at me! See me!”
    It was all no use; he gave no sign of hearing. The years of waiting had been in vain: Peter no longer knew her. She was tied to this day, endlessly forced to repeat her last, futile journey.

    Suddenly he fell, slithering headfirst into the ditch. The boy’s desperate, scrabbling fingers struck first a few white bones, washed up from their burial place by other snows and thaws, and then, under the bones, closed upon a broken leather pouch, a hoard of coins and a rusty knife. Sensing the presence stooping over him, he struck out with the blade. The rattle of the trees increased in a sharp crescendo.

    “Peter!” Marguerite screamed again, staggering and clutching her side; the ribbon of her life running to its end with this deadly variation: her son had struck at her—

    The shadow vanished. Would it reappear? thought the boy for several heart-stopping moments. No, it had definitely gone, perhaps forever.

    Shaken but laughing, pleased with himself, Peter buried the finds in the hood of his cloak. Now he could tell his father how he had seen off a ghost. He could show him the knife, and the ruined money pouch with the blurred initials scratched on the leather and the tarnished silver coins. His mother, too, would be proud of him now.

Lindsay Townsend

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Book review: Her Sanctuary by Tracy Garrett

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Abandoned in River’s Bend, Missouri, by the members of an uncharitable wagon train headed west, Maggie Flanaghan finds herself in trouble with nowhere to turn. But in the citizens of the small town, she discovers friends and acceptance upon the death of her dear father—and catches the attention of the town’s most eligible bachelor. When her past threatens to destroy her happiness, she must choose to flee or fight for the sanctuary of a good man’s love.

Kristoph Oltmann hadn’t planned on still being alone with no wife and partner to share his life. He thought Maggie Flanaghan was the answer to his prayers, but her secret past makes her unsuitable as a preacher’s wife. Can he believe Maggie has been heaven-sent in spite of her predicament? Can he be HER SANCTUARY, even as she is exactly what he longs for—a haven for his heart?

My review:

We all know that saying about what assumptions do. I even recently read a book that was about assumptions and the problems they cause. Did I listen to the lessons learned? Nope - which is why I took too long to go back River's Bend and read the last story (which btw... I'd love to see more stories from River's Bend, Ms. Tracy Garrett!! Ya know, if you're taking requests, lol). I wasn't sure how a preacher would be portrayed as the hero in the story, and that made me pause and assume things. And left me pleasantly satisfied by the end.

I also don't know what the deal is lately, but it seems like I can't get away from death and heavy grief lately (whether in stories or real life). And while I read the blurb before starting this book, for some reason, it didn't click for me what was going to happen till I was already invested in the story, so off I went on another journey through grief and loss with Maggie.

I loved how Maggie had the inner strength that pushed through every hurt and trial set before her. I love how she struggled a bit, but knew deep down her worth. I could identify so well with her and felt her hurt and struggles and desires.

I loved how Kris wasn't the typical preacher character you see in western stories. He had a strength and a presence about him that complimented the strength he drew from God. He also was wise enough to quickly see his mistakes (aka his own assumptions) and rectify them. Loved how he was able to see Maggie for who she really was and pursued her, breaking down both her and his own defenses to give each other the home that they desperately needed.

This story touched on some sensitive topics - loss of loved one, prejudice, forgiveness, compassion. All were handled with care.

I also enjoyed catching up with the other couples of River's Bend - made me want to go back and revisit them again.

If you're looking for a story that'll make you feel and think, but yet deliver a precious and heartwarming love story, this is one to pick up, along with all the other River's Bend stories (as I believe this is technically the last one in the series).

Purchase links: 
             Kindle Link          Trade Paperback Link

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

When History Smacks You In The Face

I love it when history reaches out to you unexpectedly when you turn the corner. I knew I would  glean some historical significance last week when I visited one of the oldest log cabins in Pinehurst, NC for lunch with friends. But what I found was a hidden treasure about which I had no clue prior to entering the cabin. 

The ladies who run the cabin, which consists of a restaurant and a gift shop, are part of a small and vital breed of women. They are members of the Federation of Woman’s Exchanges, a female invention of the 1800s and now a national organization who have the goal of helping members of their communities to achieve economic success through the sale of consignment goods and hand-crafted items. Initially, the mission of the Women’s Exchange was to serve  “…as a depot or salesroom where any woman from the richest lady in the land to the poorest can place the work of her fingers and offer it up for sale.”  That, according to the New Orleans Picayune. Recipes from various women were compiled into cookbooks and sold, along with a range of products from jam to embroidery. 

The Sandhills Woman’s Exchange is housed in a log cabin, which was built in 1810 and moved log by log to its current location in 1895. They operate a gift shop and restaurant on a seasonal basis because there is no central air or heat in the building. They open in February and run through May and then again from September through December each year and have been doing so for 61 years. Purchased by the Sandhills Woman’s Exchange in 1923, they currently sell products from 70 different artists, mostly based in North Carolina. 

Begun in 1832 in Philadelphia, PA as the Woman’s Exchange Movement, the movement mushroomed to nearly 100 such organizations in the late 1800s. By 1891, membership in the exchanges swelled to over 16,000 consignors and paid out a total of $350,000 to them, based on total sales of $1.1 million dollars. Not only did the suppliers benefit from the sale of their merchandise, store managers, who were all women, received valuable training in retail organization and management, something they could not hope to attain in the male-dominated retail market in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Many of these exchanges were more than consignment shops. They offered boarding, operated restaurants and tea rooms, and most importantly, gave women a chance to earn a living, as well as sparking generous charitable gifts from wealthy ladies.

There are now still twenty such exchanges located in twelve states, under an umbrella organization called the Federation of Woman’s Exchanges, which was formed in 1934 to provide cohesion and unity. This combination of charity, cooperation and retailing is still evident in the locations still active today. These Woman’s Exchanges are one of the oldest operating charitable movements in the United States, although its numbers died out shortly after women received the right to vote and began to join the work force. 

Be on the lookout for such Exchanges when you’re traveling to Southport, Greenwich or Old Lyme, CT, Saint Augustine, FL, New Orleans, LA, Baltimore, MD, Dedham,  Lincoln Center or Wayland, MA, St. Louis, MO, Midland Park and Little Silver, NJ, Brooklyn and Scarsdale, NY, Pinehurst, NC, West Reading and West Chester, PA, Memphis, TN and Dallas and Sherman, TX. Seven of these establishments are housed in historic buildings, two of which are open to tours and can be rented out for special events. Two still operate tea rooms and one offers catering. All are non-profit entities, powered by extraordinary women.

While each Exchange is run separately, they all have the same goal–to help crafters and consigners earn a living and providing community charitable organizations with the proceeds from the sale of goods. The various groups exchange ideas on the best business practices to help further their cause. Their ideal of women helping women has helped many women flourish over the years. We owe these Woman’s Exchanges a debt of gratitude. And, if you make it to the Pinehurst location, be sure to treat yourself to their lobster bisque!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Authors and Readers, Let's Discuss . . . . a.k.a. a Dream Come True

OK, the honest truth -- for this month, I was planning on a blog post about Wichita, Kansas' Old Cowtown Museum.  I've done a phone interview with Niki Conard, a living historian and photographer who does amazing work as a volunteer there, and I have her fabulous photos to share with you.  But with shifting all of our university functions online over this past week, and with my city shutting down all around me, the timing just seemed wrong.  I hope you'll all look forward to our vicarious visit to Old Cowtown, next month.

I LOVED Kaye Spencer's post last week, on why she writes historicals, and the discussion that it generated.  So for this month, I thought I'd leave you with this, and hope you'll all chime in with your own thoughts.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend at work.  I knew she'd bought a copy of Courting Anna, but we hadn't spoken about it yet.  And she said the most amazing thing!  "I've been having dreams about your book, about the characters.  And I really want to know what happens to them next."  I've had some lovely feedback on the book, but hearing that my characters had come so alive to her that she was DREAMING about them?  Literally, dare I say it, a dream come true. 

So, Prairie Rose authors, what is the nicest thing someone's said about one of your books or characters?   And Prairie Rose readers, tell us about a book or character that you can't stop thinking about?

Until next time, here's a taste of Niki's photography, some from Old Cowtown, and some from other sites around the West:   Images of Anna's world, thanks to Red Rock of Wichita    Many more to come!

Website & Blog:
Twitter: @CateSimon3

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Why I write in the historical romance genre by Kaye Spencer #prairierosepubs #amwriting #historicalromance

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As an author, a question I occasionally encounter is, “Why do you write stories with historical settings instead of contemporary stories?”

My superficial answer is I’m drawn to the Old West, Roaring Twenties, and 1950s, because I'm a history nerd with a particular interest in these time periods, and also because writing stories in any historical setting feeds my nerdiness.

The serious reasons are these.

Reason 1—Research

Every historical I write allows me to tumble down research rabbit holes. I’ve discovered the most intriguing and amazing tidbits of history in my research Wonderland. It’s important to me to have the details in my stories as historically accurate, but I temper the accuracy with the need to tell a good story. I am, after all, writing fiction as entertainment, not creating a historical documentary.

Reason 2—Living vicariously in the past

While I’m writing a story set in the past, I get to travel to a different place and time and live in someone else’s shoes and view the world through their eyes and perspectives. I’m like Anthony Marston in Quigley Down Under: “…Some men [women] are born in the wrong century.” I’m on an adventure that can take me anywhere I want to go.

Alan Rickman | Anthony Marston - Image courtesy IMDb

Reason 3—Challenge of overcoming inconveniences

I like writing stories that lack modern day conveniences. Without the amenities we’re accustomed to nowadays, there are so many juicy complications for the characters to face, deal with, and overcome that otherwise could be written away with a call on the cell phone or by hopping an airplane.

I get a little giddy imagining the possibilities...

*Contraception: Without our modern-day contraceptives, the possibility of pregnancy looms in historical stories as an ever-present consequence of a romantic dalliance. This is a great plot device for building the emotional tension between the hero and heroine. Fear of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and the real threat of dying in childbirth both add another layer of anxiety to the romantic relationship.

*Communication: When the hero and heroine have to depend upon letter writing and telegraph messages, both of which were slow (relatively speaking) and could more easily be intercepted or even lost, the villain has the opportunity to weasel his way into the heroine’s life and console her. Perhaps the heroine thinks the hero jilted her at the altar when he doesn’t show up for their wedding when actually the villain intercepted the telegram, which explains the legitimate reason for the hero’s delay.

Morse Key and Sounder image courtesy Wikipedia HERE

*Transportation: Transportation wasn’t necessarily convenient or terribly comfortable. Horseback riding was functional, but for long periods of time over great distances is exhausting and full of plot-enhancing dangers and challenges. Stagecoach travel was cramped, dirty/dusty, really hot/really cold, and could be dangerous. It lacked privacy that women need. Obtaining a decent meal could be an on-going problem. Generally, stage travel was a grueling test of endurance. Traveling by train was limited to where the tracks were laid, and it shared many of the same drawbacks as stage travel, plus the additional discomfort of soot and cinders coming into the passenger cars. After all, the heroine might be kidnapped by a drop-dead handsome train robber or find herself stranded on the Texas prairie with nothing but a scoundrel of a gambler as her companion along with the one surviving horse from the stagecoach team after the Comanche attack.
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*Medicine: Sophisticated antibiotics as we know them were virtually nonexistent back in the ‘olden days’, which makes the recovery difficult and, sometimes, the character’s very survival tenuous given the physical torture/wounds/injuries we, as authors, inflict upon them. Lack of modern day pain killers and antibiotics makes the situation all that more dire for the hero when the female doctor extracts the arrow from his thigh.

My questions to you...

Authors of historical romances: What would you add? What draws you to your historical writing?
Readers of historical romances: What is it about historical romances appeals to you?

Until next time, 
Kaye Spencer

Stay in contact with Kaye

Monday, March 9, 2020

Colonel Sarah Bowman, The "Great Western"

Born Sarah Knight in 1812 or 1813, in either Tennessee or Missouri, according to the Handbook of Texas, Sarah A. Bowman was a “mountain of a woman who stood six feet two inches tall” and carried the nickname “Great Western,” in a possible reference to the contemporary steamship of that name, which was noted for its size. Texas Ranger John Salmon Ford said of her, "She could whip any man, fair fight or foul, could shoot a pistol better than anyone in the region, and at black jack could outplay (or out cheat) the slickest professional gambler."

In her lifetime, Sarah was an innkeeper, camp cook, nurse, wife, and madam. She gained fame and the title “Heroine of Fort Brown” as a camp follower of Zachary Taylor’s army during the Mexican-American war. In 1845, when her husband enlisted in the Army at Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, Missouri, Sarah signed on as a laundress, a position that included food, shelter, and the opportunity to earn a salary three times that earned by her Army private husband. By the time the Army arrived at Corpus Christi Bay, in Texas, her duties also included cook and nurse.

When the Army received orders to advance into Mexico, rather than stay with her ill husband, or travel with the rest of the wives onboard a ship, she purchased a wagon and mule team and drove on land with the troops. As they reached the Arroyo Colorado, they were threatened by the Mexican Army. As the Commander hesitated, it is said Sarah rode to the front of the assembled troops and told him, "If the general [Taylor] would give me a strong pair of tongs, [men’s trousers] I'd wade that river and whip every scoundrel that dared show himself." Inspired by her, the men crossed the river and scattered the Mexican troops.

When her second husband, Borginnes, was assigned to Fort Texas (then named Fort Brown), she operated an officer’s mess. When the majority of the troops moved to the coast, Mexican forces camped directly across the Rio Grande attacked the fort. While most of the women in the fort retreated to the bunkers to sew sandbags, Sarah remained at her post. For the next week she prepared food and carried buckets of coffee to the troops manning the fort's guns, even finding time to care for the wounded and other women. She prepared three meals a day even though bullets struck both her bonnet and bread tray—though she did requisition a musket just in case.

Following the battle, Sarah established the American House in Matamoros. In addition to food, lodging, and stables for soldiers' horses, the establishment also served as a saloon and brothel. As Taylor moved the Army, the American House went along, first to Monterrey and then on to Saltillo.

Sarah again saw action at the Battle of Buena Vista, where she prepared food and coffee, reloaded weapons and carried wounded off the battlefield, earning her a new  nickname: “Doctor Mary.” Following her actions on the field of battle, tradition says General Winfield Scott ordered a military pension for her.

When the troops moved on to California, Sarah was told only military wives were allowed to join the column. Since her second husband was gone—or dead—she couldn’t go. Legend says she mounted her horse and rode through the soldiers shouting “Who wants a wife with $15,000 and the biggest leg in Mexico!”

In early 1849, Sarah arrived in what is now El Paso, Texas. There she established an inn catering to those heading west for the California Gold Rush. She was El Paso’s first Anglo woman and the town’s first madam.

In 1852, with her new husband, Sarah moved west to Yuma Crossing. As Yuma’s first business operator, she cooked and did laundry for the officers at the fort. After a time, she opened a hotel near Fort Yuma, as well as Fort Buchanan and in Patagonia, Arizona.

Sarah Bowman, "The Great Western," died December 22, 1866, from a spider bite. Following her death, she was made an honorary colonel in the Army and buried with military honors in the Fort Yuma Cemetery. When Fort Yuma was decommissioned, her body, along with 158 soldiers’, were exhumed and moved to San Francisco National Cemetery.

For more information, visit Sarah in The Handbook of Texas:


Sunday, March 8, 2020

Book review: Hidden Trails by Cheryl Pierson



2016 WESTERN FICTIONEERS PEACEMAKER AWARD FINALIST. Levi Connor has never run from anything in his life, and he doesn’t intend to start now. After killing the two bandits who’d followed him into Indian Territory, he finds himself wounded and riding through a blinding February snowstorm. With no purpose ahead of him and no past to guide him, he discovers a reason to exist—the beautiful mixed-blood girl who takes him in and heals him.

Valentine Reneau lives in fear that her father will find her someday in the heart of Indian Territory and force her to return to Mississippi to take her mother’s place—in every way. She knows her time has run out when a stranger shows up on her land with two hired guns—and the devil in his plans.

With some unlikely help, Valentine must try to escape the slave’s fate that her mother left behind so many years before. Will Levi kill for a woman he barely knows? The chips are down, the guns blaze, and everything finally comes clear along these HIDDEN TRAILS…but who’ll be left alive?

My review:

Hidden Trails is a charmingly sweet and adventure-filled western story that gives you something to think about while you enjoy the tale.

I loved Levi's stubbornness, his determination to do the right thing, and his natural protective instincts that take center stage once he encounters Val.

I loved Valentine's strength, her tenacity, and her confidence in herself and her worth.  She wasn't going to back down from a fight, nor was she going to allow herself to be trod upon.

If you're looking for a winter themed western that packs a punch and still gives you sweet, this is a story to enjoy.

Purchase links:

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The Most Dangerous Jobs for Adults in the 19th Century


The Most Dangerous Jobs for Adults in the 19th Century

C. A. Asbrey
Ratters betting on the killing of rats

Following on from my previous post about the most dangerous jobs for children in the 19th century, it's time to have a look at what was available for those poor unfortunates if they survived into adulthood. In a world where the poor were given only the most basic education, and where social mobility was almost unknown, people had few options and often took the only work available, or followed their family profession.

You may think that being in the military was one of the most dangerous careers, but for many young men it was a route out of grinding poverty, and was seen by many as preferable to civilian life. Not only did it give food, lodgings, and clothes, but it also gave an opportunity for education, training, and advancement. On retirement, a pension was provided, and it gave young men a chance to be respected instead of being at the bottom of the social pile. On top of all that there was a chance for travel and adventure. In fact, the life was seen as far safer than many other forms of employment, and had a lower mortality rate than the jobs we're about to look at here.

Rat Catcher

A rat catcher was a very necessary role, but fraught with the risk of bites, infection, and a horrible death through the diseases they transmitted. It could be a profitable business though. They could sell the live rats to a ratter - who'd put the rats in a pit for men to gamble on how long it would take a dog to kill them all. Jack Black, Queen Victoria's rat catcher was recorded as keeping over 1,000 live rats in cages to sell on. If he forgot to feed them, they'd turn on one another, and eat the other rats, ruining his profits.

'Room and pillar' mining
Mining in the United States, specifically during the late 1890s to early 1900s, employed the 'room and pillar' method, which used coal pillars and timber to hold up roofs. In Europe the mine tended to be deeper, and were alSo very dangerous, too, but the mortality rates in Room and Pillar mines were far higher. Miners worked in separate rooms, leading to limited supervision, and regular blasting was necessary to bring down coal. Often, the pillars would fail and there'd be a cave-in, trapping and crushing the miners. Their pay was based on their output, meaning that poor people took more risks to earn more. Lack of regulations meant that mine owners didn't invest in the safety equipment and procedures which were being introduced in other parts of the world. Death and injury were common, leading crippled miners to scratch a living doing whatever they could to survive.

Jobs didn't come much more disgusting than the poor old tosher. These people descended into the Victorian sewers and sifted through raw sewage to find any valuables which were dropped or washed down the drains. In an age before protective clothing, these people risked disease, rat bite, pockets of noxious gas, and tides of water which washed them away, and sometimes drowned them.

They often worked in groups and were recognizable by the long hoe they carried, and the canvas trousers and aprons covered in pockets. The work could be profitable, with coins and even jewelry turning up in the mire.

Pure Finder 

An almost equally disgusting role, but not quite, was that of the pure finder. The pure finder collected dog feces from the streets of
cities and sold them on to tanners, who used them in the tanning process in the leather they produced. In the days before synthetic fabrics leather was in great demand for furniture. tack, bags, boots,
bookbinding and even rudimentary protective clothing.

The pure finder sometimes wore one glove to protect the scooping hand. Others found the glove difficult to keep clean and went without the glove entirely.

Leech Collector

Leeches were in great demand by the medical profession, and somebody had to collect them. Those poor souls risked a myriad of infections as they ventured into dirty water to attract the blood-suckers to their own bodies, before transferring them to jars for selling on.

The work was often done by women, who would hoist up their skirts and wade into the water to become a human trap. Leeches can survive for  up to a year without feeding, so they could be stored in pharmacies until required. Quite apart from the risk of infection, the successful leech collector also tended to suffer from anaemia.

Railroad Worker

Often seen as an exciting and modern career for young men, the railroads were also an incredibly dangerous place to work. In 1889, the US railway's averaged a fatality rate of 8.52 deaths out of every thousand workers a year.

The workers were required to go between moving freight trains to couple and uncouple cars, resulting in many crush injuries. Over and above that there was the danger of explosion and  crashes. The workers were also required to ride cars to test brakes on moving trains. 


Logging has always been a dangerous undertaking. Even today it's considered a risky profession. The death rate at the moment is 8.43 deaths per 100,000 worker, but in the past it was even higher. There were no regulations and men keen to up their pay made the profession a bit of a free-for-all. Lumber was in demand everywhere, especially as building material as people pushed the frontier further west. 

In a September 1894 account in Munsey's Magazine, a lumberjack speaks:

Lumber camp life is by no means a desirable existence. Not only is it a dull routine of toil, but oftentimes it involves great hardship, while its pleasures are few and far between. A lake captain, who in his younger days spent several years in the woods, one day remarked that if he had his choice between spending three months in a lumber camp and the same amount of time in jail, he would unhesitatingly choose the latter...

[It is] a life fraught with many dangers. Falling trees and rolling logs have caused a long list of deaths; and it is on this account that the woodsman's outer garments are of the brightest colors, blue, green, red, and yellow being the more prominent. The men are thereby able to see one another more distinctly through the thick underbrush, and by a timely warning to avert a great many dangers.

In an environment where masculinity and strength was valued, there was a culture of recklessness,  and aggression was encouraged. Throw in a few hatchets, band saws, and chainsaws into that world, and it's surprising the casualties weren't higher. 

Matchstick Makers

There were many dangers in being a matchstick maker. They were frequently very young, very poor, often female, and generally the most powerless members of society. They earned a pittance, despite shareholders winning huge dividends, and worked sixteen hour days five days a week. They risked baldness from carrying stacks of boxes on their heads, handled cutting machinery which lost them fingers, and were frequently beaten if they under-performed. They had to buy their own equipment, and were fined for leaving their post, even to go to the toilet.

Worst of all, they handled highly-toxic yellow phosphorus, and as they were unable to leave their workstations, they also ate where they worked. This led to them consuming traces of the phosphorous when they ate their lunches while they worked. Over time, numerous people contracted necrosis of the jaw, which they colloquially called 'phossy jaw', and the phosphorous poisoning was the cause of the foul cancer eating away their jaw bones. In 1888, there was a strike,which fought for better pay and conditions, as well as a switch to less toxic red phosphorous.

The strike emboldened the Trade Union movement, and other workers followed their lead to fight for better working conditions. This wasn't the end of dangerous jobs though. The early twentieth century saw the scandal of the radium girls, who suffered from cancer caused by the radium they worked with. Asbestosis, deafness, hand vibration syndrome, and even latex allergies still impact on people today. We have made huge strides, but there are still cases which need attention to protect people.   


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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