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Thursday, June 24, 2021

New Release - The Deaconess Hires a Gunman by Beverly Wells



When Arminta Foster’s father dies, she steps up to fill his shoes as deaconess until a pastor can be found. But not everyone looks kindly on the beautiful young woman who trains, breeds, and sells the horses she holds so dear. Someone is out to ruin her—a neighbor, she believes—and she needs protection! When her beeves began to be slaughtered, the sheriff lets her know she’s on her own—and she takes matters into her own resourceful hands.

She asks a Montana outlaw to marry her…

The law has caught up with handsome Montana gunman Jake Mathews—and he faces death by hanging. Being captured prevents him from seeing his mission of revenge through to the end, but there may still be a way out, if he marries this crazy young woman. He’s protected by Montana law—his crimes excused—if claimed by a God-loving woman in matrimony.

And it seems Miss Arminta Foster is here to claim him…

All Arminta asks is that he marry her, protect her land—and her—and once things settle down, he will be free to go. How can he pass up such an offer—especially when he’s facing the gallows? Easy as pie, they both believe, until their tentative friendship becomes so much more—a true love neither of them bargained for. Will that love be enough to convince Jake to give up his quest to track down and kill one last man? Can Arminta forgive him for what he may do?

She gets more than she bargains for when THE DEACONESS HIRES A GUNMAN…


“What are ya thinking?” At least his voice dropped a fraction of an octave. “Ya’d be outta your mind to consider such a thing.”

Oh, yes, he also thinks I’m truly, quite demented.

Arminta Foster straightened in the chair and smiled as sweet as she could without laughing in the flustered man’s face. “Sheriff, you may think I’m crazy, but I assure you, I’m in full control of all my faculties. As to what I’m thinking…you said you don’t have enough men, or the time yourself to see who’s behind the slaughters. So, if the law won’t, or can’t protect what’s mine, then I’m forced to see to it myself. I can’t afford to lose more cattle, or my land, and I could never live with myself if I lost any of my horses. I need protection. And I need it now.”

“Now, listen here, young la—”

“No, Sheriff,” she interrupted, springing from her chair to her feet to stare him down, her fists clenched at her sides. “You must listen to me. The man you have behind bars is waiting to be transported back to Montana Territory for the crime he committed. You agreed since he hails from Montana, he’s under their jurisdiction. Is that not true?” Though difficult, she prided herself in holding her voice at a reasonable tone.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean—”

“Oh, please! Believe me; I’ve done my homework regarding Montana.” She leaned her palms flat upon his desk to better glare straight at the man. “There’s not much law there, but what they do have holds hard and fast. I’ve every right to claim him, if I so choose. Isn’t that correct—in the eyes of Montana Territory Law?”

His face flushed as well as his neck. “He’s a gunman for heaven’s sake! How in tarnation do ya know he won’t jist kill ya, or skedaddle the minute ya both leave here? Think Miss Arminta. Ya being a deaconess won’t protect ya from him harming ya in his eyes. Ya can’t trust a man like that. He’s killed one man. He might have killed more we don’t even know about.”


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Hidden History: A Plot Long Concealed


George Washington

     Even before the American colonies declared their independence, General George Washington became acutely aware of the many potential threats to his personal safety and to his life. While commanding the siege of Boston in March 1776, he issued an order to Continental Army colonels and commanding officers to each select four “good Men, such as they can recommend for their sobriety, honesty and good behavior; he (Washington) wishes them to be from five feet eight Inches high, to five feet ten Inches; handsomely and well made, and as there is nothing in his eyes more desirable than Cleanliness in a Soldier, he desires that particular attention be made in the choice of such men as are clean and spruce” to serve as his personal guards. 

     This elite group of soldiers became known primarily as “The Life Guards.” The unit’s official mission was "to protect General Washington, the army's cash, and official papers." Their uniforms consisted of “a blue coat with white facings; white waistcoat and breeches; black stock and black half-gaiters, and a round hat, with blue and white feather.” A special flag was fashioned of white silk, with an image of a guard member holding the reins of a horse while receiving “a flag from genius of Liberty, who is personified as a woman leaning upon the Union shield.” The flag included the Guards’ motto, “Conquer or Die.” Major Caleb Gibbs became the commander of the unit.

The Life Guard Flag

     The Continental Army shocked England and the world by taking Boston as a result of the siege, making elimination of the Commander-in-Chief an even more prized goal.

     The army’s move to New York, with its large number of British loyalists (Tories), put Washington into even more peril. The British Governor of New York, William Tryon, had fled to a British Merchant ship for his own safety and remained there in self-imposed exile. Washington tried to minimize communications between New York colonists and the ship. He also requested that the New York Provincial Congress form a secret Committee on Conspiracies to uncover conspiracies among New York’s Loyalists. The Congress established the committee and appointed a trusted patriot, John Jay, as its leader.   


Governor William Tryon

     Governor Tryon and New York City Mayor David Mathews, both Tories, wanted to insure a British victory in the impending battle for the city. They hatched a plot to remove Washington as leader of the Continental Army. Some accounts indicate the plan was to assassinate Washington while others suggest the goal was to kidnap him.  Either outcome would eliminate him as commander of the Continental Army. Tryon and Mathews, with the help of local loyalists, successfully turned some of Washington’s newly appointed Life Guards against him.

     On June 15, 1776 two Life Guards, Thomas Hickey and Michael Lynch, were arrested and jailed for passing counterfeit money. They confided to Isaac Ketcham, a fellow prisoner who was a civilian, that they and several other members of the Life Guard were involved in a plot against Washington and they intended to defect to the British army as soon as the invasion came. Ketchum reported this information to the investigating committee in an effort to free himself from charges resulting from his own counterfeiting operations.  The committee learned more information from an iron mill foreman who had uncovered details of the plot in the course of tracking down some absent workers for his boss.

      The local New York City Committee of Safety discovered the plan and Mayor Mathews’ role in it. On June 21st, Washington approved his immediate arrest, along with others involved in the conspiracy. All were questioned, and Hickey was determined to be the ringleader among the Life Guard conspirators.

     The city authorities turned Hickey over to the Continental Army. He was court-martialed for conspiracy. During the trial, witnesses accused Mathews of funding the effort to bribe soldiers to join the British. Prosecutors could not prove the charge, but he and twelve others were briefly imprisoned. Hickey, however, was found guilty of mutiny and sedition. A crowd of 20,000 spectators watched his execution by hanging on June 28, 1776 in New York.     

     The Life Guard remained on duty until the end of the war, disbanding in 1783. The extent of the plot against George Washington will probably never be fully known, but there is no question that he barely escaped it on the eve of the Revolution.

     I learned about this plot from The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch. According to the authors, Washington covered up the assassination plot because he did not want anyone to know that his own men had turned on him just as the British were about to invade. He feared it would reflect poorly on his ability to lead the Continental Army.

     So much of our history has been hidden by choice or by chance. It is fascinating to come across stories like this one. Who knows what else we might discover in the future?

 Ann Markim


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Romance of the Everyday

When it comes to writing romance, I am in love with the everyday. Again and again, I actively seek out fiction and romance that deals with so-called ‘ordinary’ people.


Because to me a hero or heroine is more striving and heroic if they win through after many trials and adventures with their own skills, wit and effort, not because they happen to be born into a class or position.

Because a hero is more beautiful to me if he is not massively handsome but that feeling, true emotion for the heroine, makes him ‘pretty’. (I also like this theme the other way round – I love the part in Jane Eyre where the heroine goes down to breakfast after accepting Mr Rochester’s proposal and she looks, even to herself, glowing and pretty, ‘truly pretty’ as Mr R tells her.)

Because if the hero or heroine has tons of money or special powers that they can use at the snap of their languid fingers, where is the tension?

Skill impresses me and has a poetry of its own. Watch anyone who is really good at something – a potter with a wheel, a farrier, a shepherd, a dustman dealing with wheelie bins – and there is an elegance, a romance. I love to celebrate skill in the romances I write and I always have my warrior have a gentler skill as well as their fighting. (I don’t admire a fighter who can do nothing but battle, because how can such a person create a life and a relationship if they only destroy?) A warrior as strong protector, yes, a warrior fighting for kudos, OK, but a warrior who is a glory-junkie and no more? No thanks.

We live in a complex world and I like to write romances that reflect this and celebrate whose who heal, who create, who build, who make.

So I write about knights but mainly younger sons, who have to make their own way and who don’t have everything handed to them and knights who are scarred or grieving and must find another path to live their lives  - I do this in The Snow Bride and A Summer Bewitchment.

I write about foresters and dairy maids  and cooks (The Master Cook and the Maiden), serfs and peasants (A Knight's Choice and Other Romances) jugglers and travelling players (Dark Maiden), kingdoms where the 'ruler' must fight the everyday elements and more to survive (The Viking and the Pictish Princess).

In all these, I try to weave the everyday into the stories, those special everyday moments – the first kiss, the ‘I love you’ time, the recognition that this person is ‘the one’, the moment when my hero and heroine meet again, feeling a happy glow, even if they’ve only been apart for a moment. 

We all have times when the world shimmers about us and we feel apart from the hurly-burly, when we step into our own magic world with those we care about.

Everyday but special. That’s what I love to write about and read about.

Lindsay Townsend

Monday, June 14, 2021

Winchester - The Man and the Guns


“Oliver Fisher Winchester was born on November 30, 1810 in Boston, Massachusetts. Although raised on a farm, Winchester eventually became a carpenter, and by 1830, he was a construction supervisor in Baltimore, Maryland. While in Baltimore, he entered the dry goods business, and after several years, Winchester became a manufacturer of men's shirts in New Haven, Connecticut. This venture proved to be sufficiently profitable that he began to extend his business interests. 

“In 1855, Winchester became a stockholder and director of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, a firearms manufacturing firm that brought together the talents of Winchester with those of Horace Smith, Daniel B. Wesson, and B. Tyler Henry. Volcanic produced lever-action repeating pistols and carbines based on the patents of Smith & Wesson.”

“In 1857, financial problems forced Volcanic into insolvency. The company's assets were purchased by Oliver Winchester, who by this time had become Volcanic's president. Winchester reorganized the firm and resumed operations under the name of New Haven Arms Company… Among those hired by Oliver Winchester was B. Tyler Henry...”  He designed and patented the lever-action repeating rifles that bear his name.

Winchester Arms built many of the weapons the “won the west.” Several different weapons, both rifles and handguns, have been dubbed “the gun that won the west.” Like the Colt 1873 Peacemaker, a .45 caliber six-shot revolver; the Winchester Model 1866 “Yellow Boy” lever-action repeating rifle, so named for its shiny brass frame, and the Winchester Model 1873 lever-action repeating rifle.

Some believe the model 1873 Winchester is widely know as "the gun that won the west" purely because there were so many made. The production run of more than 720,000 meant the 1873 was obtainable by pretty much anyone who wanted one. And that meant a lot of them went west with those brave enough to pack up and head off into parts unknown. Also, the model 1873 used .44-.40 cartridges, which meant your pistols and your rifle could use the same ammunition. That meant less chance of running out when you needed it most.

“Most Texas Rangers and every old West cowboy worth his salt carried 1873 rifles. Chappo, the son of Apache war chief Geronimo, packed an 1873. And Buffalo Bill carried an 1873 lever-action rifle along with a pair of .44-40 Colts in 1876 when he worked as an Army scout.” 

If you’d like to see a reproduction in action, check out this video:  

Pay attention to the difference in the amount of smoke produced between the first cartridges, which use modern smokeless powder, and the second set, which are loaded with a black powder substitute that is more like the black powder used in the 1800s. No shooter could hide for long. The smoke was always a factor with the weapons of the period. Every shot left a cloud that gave away his or her position.

Thanks for stopping by.
Tracy  @TracyGarrett

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Women of Bruce - Part Three The Two Wives of Robert Bruce

The Women of Bruce - Part Three 

 The Two Wives of Robert Bruce

What do we know of the two women that married Robert the Bruce, king of the Scots?  There have been four, maybe more films made about Bruce’s life in the last 20 years, all iffy history at best, which is sad since the story of Bruce’s rise from the earl of Carrick to the man who fought his cousin to determine who would claim the crown is a wonderful tale.  Did the women who became his brides fare any better?  For the most part they were simply omitted, or if included written with questionable inaccurately.  Both women were born to be a queen, but only one reached that pinnacle.  They were both young, both reputed to be lovely, and both came from lineage that had ancient and royal blood running through the lines.


Isabel of Mar


Arms of Isabel of Mar

Isabel of Mar was born 1278 at Kildrummy, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.  She was the first wife of Robert Bruce, and she carried blood royal on both sides of her family.  Her father, Donald "Domhnall mac Uilleim" Mar, 10th earl of Mar, whose lineage goes back to origins of Clan Macdonald and “King of the Hebrides”—Somerled.  He also was the great grandson of Henry I Beauclerc, king of England, younger son of William "the Conqueror" FitzRobert, duke of Normandy, king of England.  An impressive lineage but it is matched by  Isabel’s mother—Elen “the Younger” ferch Llywelyn was a princess of Wales, and widow of Mormaer Maol Choluim II, earl of Fife.  Her grandfather on her mother’s side was Llywelyn Fawr 'the Great' Llywelyn prince of Wales and Gwynedd, who married Lady Joan Siwan Fitzjohn of Wales, lady of Snowdon, illegitimate daughter of King John of England.  So in the marriage to Isabel, Bruce was cementing bonds not only to powerful clans of Scotland, but to the high English and Welsh rulers as well.  Isabel was a woman bred to be a queen, the perfect wife to rule at Robert’s side when the time came.

Isabel’s father was an ardent supporter of Robert Bruce, 5th lord of Annandale—Bruce’s grandfather, known as 'the Competitor'—and was there at Annandale’ back during The Great Cause.  Of the seventeen lords vying for the crown of the Scots, Annandale was one of the top three contenders, if not the candidate to wear the Scottish crown.  And it wasn’t arrogance for Annandale to expect, when all was said and done, that he would become the ruler of Scotland.  When Alexander II, his cousin, lacked an heir, the king had name Annandale as tanist—a Scottish term for heir apparent.  If Alexander had died at that point in history, Annandale would have become king of the Scots with none to lay challenge.  Later, he was Regent of Scotland during the minority of his second cousin, King Alexander III.   I am sure it came as a shock, which turned to outrage, when Edward chose John Balliol over him.  Edward had deliberately held the Bruces close to him, rewarded them richly in ways he wouldn’t do with other nobles, yet at the back of his mind was the truth—the men of Bruce were not to be taken lightly.  The ultimate goal for the English king was to fold Scotland into the kingdom of England, along with Wales, and then to add France.

The Earl of Mar was one of the seven Guardians of Scotland and he had believed Robert the Bruce was the lawful King of Scots. Mar could see great advantage in aligning his family with the Bruces.   In 1292, Isabel’s older brother, Gartnait mac Domhnaill, married Robert’s older sister, Christian.  Three years later, by papal dispensation, and at the age of 18, Isabel married Robert, earl of Carrick, who was four years her senior.  In a time when marriages for nobles were little more than political power moves, legend has it that Robert and Isabel were very much in love.  Few were surprised, when a short time later, Isabel was soon with child. They seemed blessed; she had a healthy pregnancy.  Late in 1296, Isabel gave birth to a daughter.  They named her Marjorie after Bruce’s late mother, Marjorie, countess of Carrick.  Then, Fate waved a hand on the night of December 12th, Isabel died at Castle Cardross, on the Firth of Clyde, in Renfrewshire.

Paisley Abbey

 Following her death, Isabel of Mar was buried at the Cluniac Paisley Abbey. Her tomb has not survived.  In his last act of revenge against Robert Bruce, Edward had the abbey burnt to the ground in 1307, thus destroying both the tomb of Isabel and her daughter Marjorie.  William Wallace was born in nearby Elderslie, and is believed to have been educated in the abbey when he was a boy.  Scots not being deterred had the Abbey was rebuilt.  An eerie circumstance arose when Isabel’s daughter, now grown and married to Walter Stewart, was riding near the abbey and was thrown from her horse. She was pregnant at the time.  They carried her to abbey for medical care.  I suppose saving the life of a princess came second to the child who might be king.  Robert II was born by caesarean section.  Considering the lack of anesthetics, it was small wonder she did not recover.  Marjorie was interred at the rebuilt abbey, as her mother before her had been once, and as the line of Stewarts after her.



Elizabeth de Burgh

Arms of Elizabeth de Burgh 

Elizabeth de Burgh was likely born in 1284 at Connaught Province, Ireland.  Some sources cite Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland as her place of birth.  However, since her father had been fighting in Wales with the king of England, and another daughter, Eleanor (named after Edward’s queen) was born in Wales, there is an outside chance Elizabeth might have been born there as well.  Without question she was conceived in Wales.  At this point in history, male historians barely noted the arrival of another de Burgh female, little need in their minds for accuracy of place and date of birth; they never suspected she would be one of the most famous queens of  Scotland, her legend only eclipsed by Mary queen of the Scots. 

She was the third daughter of seven, out of eleven children of  Richard Óg de Burgh, the ‘Red Earl’.  He was the 2nd earl of Ulster, 3rd baron of Connacht, Lieutenant of Ireland, Keeper of Athlone, Randown, and Roscommon Castles—and unarguably the most powerful man in Ireland.  His wife was Margaret Guines, daughter of Arnoul de Guines III and Alice de Coucy.  Margaret was a 2nd cousin once removed of Queen Eleanor.  Margaret was also a first cousin of Alexander III of Scotland, Edward I's brother-in-law.  Edward was Elizabeth’s godfather. As impressive as Margaret’s lineage was, her husband Richard matched it.  He was educated at the Court of Henry III (Edward’s father), thus cementing a lifelong friendship between Edward and Richard.  Through the years Richard was Edward’s closest friend and one of his most trusted advisers.  At nearly every battle Edward fought in England, Wales and Scotland, Richard was there at his back.

Elizabeth most likely met Robert Bruce, earl of Carrick, at the English Court.  The Bruces and de Burghs dancing to Edward’s whims, living and fighting nearly in the other’s pockets, there had to be occasions where both were in attendance.  With Isabel Mar’s death in 1296, Robert was a good catch for mothers looking for arranged marriages for their daughters. By 1300, there was some hint Edward was considering giving Robert a new bride.  Richard had three daughters of age at the time—Aveline, Eleanor and Elizabeth, the youngest.  The second daughter married Sir Thomas de Multon, 1st Lord Multon of Egremont, so that left the other two as candidates. Edward was playing a game of chess with the Bruces, often lavishing money on Robert after he refused to pay homage to John Balliol, and his lands in Scotland were seized in punishment.  At Court, he was mocked and called Edward’s Lordling. Some say, Edward paid more attention to Robert than he did his own son.  I truly think he hoped by keeping Robert close, he could curb the hunger to be the king of the Scots that had filled Robert’s father and grandfather.  And what better way than presenting him with a new wife?  Not just any bride—but one that was his goddaughter.

The English invaded Scotland in 1301.  In 1302, Robert married Elizabeth at Writtle, near Chelmsford in Essex. Robert would have been close to 28 and she was 18.  In 1304, Edward again invaded Scotland to regain control of Stirling Castle.  So, it’s not surprising to see the political turmoil around their marriage was coming to a head. 

On February 10th, 1306 at Greyfriars, Bruce met with John Red Comyn to settle, for once and all, who would be the future king of Scotland.  Comyn or his uncle tried to kill Bruce; in return, Bruce pulled his dirk from his boot and struck back, wounding Comyn.  Bruce staggered outside and told his trusted friend, Sir Alexander Seton, that he stabbed Comyn but the man was still alive. Roger de Kirkpatrick rushed inside to see, and came back with the tides that he killed Comyn. Events that would soon propel Elizabeth’s life out of control.

After meeting with the Church of Scotland, it was decided to crown Bruce king as soon as possible.  So on 27th March 1306, Robert and Elizabeth were crowned king and queen of Scots at Scone.  One might infer Elizabeth lacked faith that her husband’s bold move to be king would be a lasting one, for it is reported that she smiled faintly after the coronation and said, ‘Alas, we are but king and queen of the May that children crown for sport.’  The May King and May Queen only rule for one day.  On the other hand, perhaps it wasn’t a lack of faith in Bruce’s ability to hold the kingship as much as she understood her godfather’s ruthlessness when betrayed, and knowing also that her father would be backing Edward’s every move to put the new king down.  As well, two-thirds of Scotland aligned with Clan Comyn would be the hounds for Longshanks hunting Robert Bruce.

Thus, once again, the English army invaded.  Bruce was forced to contend with facing the English, and hampered by raising troops to fight for him.  Gold was offered to any man who could bring Bruce in.  Bruce had little time to form a strong government, or to raise his army, when he was compelled to meet the English at Methven.  Aymer de Valence, the English general acting for Edward I, had not only arrived with an established host of English soldiery and knights, the men of Comyn were flocking to him.  To Bruce’s credit he did have very able commanders in James Douglas, Christopher Seaton and Gilbert Hay to lead his troops.  Aymer de Valence seemed content to outwait Bruce.  In flamboyant fashion, Bruce invited de Valence to leave the walls of Perth and join him on the battlefield.  To his mistake, Robert presumed the preliminaries of feudal battle protocol would be observed.  When de Valence failed to take up the challenge, Bruce figured there would be no battle that day.  He and his forces retired for the night at Methven, expecting to get a good night’s sleep before the coming battle on the morrow.  Instead, before dawn, the English attacked and nearly destroyed Bruce’s forces.

Bruce had to scramble to see his family was moved out of harm’s way.  He sent  Elizabeth, his young daughter by his first marriage, Marjorie, and his sisters Mary and Christian to Kildrummy Castle, under the protection of his brother Nigel.  Kildrummy was the castle of Christian’s first husband Gartnait of Mar, and though she was now newly married to Christopher Seton, the people there were still very devoted to her.   Bruce, I would assume, thought the English would give chase to him, leaving the women safely out of reach.

Ruins of Kildrummy Castle

Again, underestimating the choices the enemy would make, the English laid siege to the castle containing the royal women. The siege finally succeeded when de Valance bribed a blacksmith with 'all the gold he could carry' to set fire to the grain store. Nigel gave a valiant defense, knowing the castle was lost, but giving time for the earl of Atholl to get the ladies safely away.  Nigel was captured alive.  He was taken to Berwick to be hanged, drawn and beheaded.

The Bruce ladies were probably heading to the Orkneys, where they would be beyond reach of Edward.  Isabel, another of Bruce’s sisters, had married Eric II Magnusson, king of Norway and ruler of the Orkneys.  Though Magnusson had died in 1299, Isabel had remained in Norway as dowager queen, and still exerted a great influence in court matter there and abroad.  However, the women only made it as far as the sanctuary of St. Duthac at Tain in Easter Ross.  There they were captured by a Balliol supporter, William, earl of Ross, who handed them over to Edward I’s men.  (Odd side noteless than two years later, Robert’s sister Maud would marry the son the earl of RossAodh 0'Beoland)  For his protection of the Bruce women, the earl of Atholl was hanged, drawn and beheaded.  His head was displayed on a pike on London Bridge.

Elizabeth spent the next eight years in captivity.  While Isabella Macduff, the woman who had crowned Bruce king, and Bruce’s sister, Mary, were taken to Berwick and Roxbury Castle, and hanged over the castle walls to punish Robert, his wife suffered a milder fate.  She was housed from October 1306 to July 1308 at Burstwick-in-Holderness, Yorkshire.  At first, she was confined with only two elderly women to take care of her needs, and ordered not to speak with her.  A letter from her during this period complained about her conditions, that she was limited to three sets of clothing and no headgear or linen bed clothing.  That saw a series of moves to other manors and castlesBisham Manor, Windsor Castle, Shaftesbury Abbey, Barking Abbey and finally Rochester Castle.   By the time she reached Windsor Castle, she had been given six servants and an allowance to pay them.  She was even permitted to have her pet Irish wolfhounds to keep her company.  At this point Edward was long dead, and she was dealing with his son, Edward II. 

So why had she been treated so well compared to the dire fates of Isabella and Mary?  Simply because she was Richard de Burgh’s daughter.  Edward had been planning on invading France for over a decade.  He needed men from Ireland to support that invasion, as well to replenish his forces in Scotland to fight Bruce, and de Burgh could do that. 

Bruce’s daughter was kept prisoner at the nunnery at Watton during those eight years.  But a puzzle surrounds Bruce’s daughters by Elizabeth.  They had three daughters:   Maud, Margaret and Elizabeth.  Not surprisingly, historians seem to have the births of the three mixed up, some even try to deny the existence of Elizabeth, and one says her birth was in 1364 (that is her death).   Genealogy sites list the dates of Maud’s birth as 1303, and then Margaret’s as 1307.  This seems perplexing.  Maud would have been three years old when her father was crowned king and her mother captured, if that were the case.  Yet, there is no reference to Elizabeth having a baby with her when captured by the earl of Ross.  John Fordun in his Scotichronicon refers to Maud as “did nothing worth recording”.  I would think if she had been held captive with her mother, or take from her mother by the English, then Fordun might have deemed her worthy of writing about!  And if the second daughter was born in 1307, that would mean Elizabeth have given birth to her after she was a prisoner.  Nowhere have I come across any reference to this.

There is no way a daughter could be born until late 1315.  If Maud’s actual date were 1315, and Margaret in 1316, that would dovetail with Elizabeth’s birth in 1317, backed up by reference to her as Bruce’s “youngest daughter”.

In the case of this Elizabeth, you will see some sites fail to list her as Bruce’s daughter entirely, or suggest she must be the child of one of his mistresses.  Sir David Dalrymple dismisses her out of hand.  He declared Fordun had not mentioned Elizabeth, and that he had not seen any charters of land grants to her, and that if any such charters existed they needed to be “deposited in the Register House”.  Well, they do exist.  There are a number of royal charters, mostly regrants signed by King David II, in which Elizabeth is described as "dilecte sorori me" — my beloved sister or "dilecte sorori nostre" — our beloved sister.  When Dalrymple was shown the proof, he promised to publish a correction to his The Annals of Scotland Volume 2, but he died without fulfilling that promise.  Thus, historians referencing Dalrymple today keep perpetuating the lie that she was illegitimate, or not Robert’s daughter at all.

After the Battle of Bannockburn, Elizabeth was moved to York.  There, she had an audience with Edward II.  In the end, Elizabeth was released as part of the ransom for Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford (Edward’s brother-in-law), who had been captured after Bannockburn on 29th September 1314.  In exchange for Hereford’s release, Edward was forced to give voice that Robert was the legal king of Scots, and to return Elizabeth, Christian, Mary and Marjorie, along with the aging Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow.  Isabella Macduff was not mentioned in the transfer, but as I expressed in my article for her, I believe she was dead by that time.

After being reunited with Bruce, Elizabeth gave birth to daughters Maud, Margaret and Elizabeth.  There were no more children for seven years—miscarriages?—and Bruce likely feared of ever having a son and heir for the throne when Elizabeth became pregnant again.  This time, on 5th of March, a son was born.  They named him David, and he would go on to be David II, king of the Scots. Another son, John, was born in early October 1327, though little is recorded other than he died soon afterward, likely a short time before Elizabeth’s own death.

Rumors were Elizabeth might have been pregnant again when she was out riding near Cullen Castle in Banffshire when she was thrown from her horse.  The circumstances were an eerie echo of the death of Robert’s daughter just ten years before, almost as if Bruce were cursed. Whether it was from illness pertaining to the birth and death of son, John, or perhaps the miscarriage of a child she was carrying, Elizabeth de Burgh closed her eyes on the night of  October 27th, 1327 and slipped away from a world that hadn’t been too kind to her. Her entrails were buried in the Church of St. Mary of the Virgin at Cullen and her body was interred at Dunfermline Castle.  She was forty-three years old.

Deborah writes Scottish Medieval Historical Romances set in the time of Robert the Bruce in a series, The Dragons of Challon.

coming in July - Women of Bruce - Part Four
The Sisters of Robert the Bruce

Monday, June 7, 2021

The History of Making Soap by Sarah J. McNeal #TheWildinsSeries



Pioneer Soap


In one of my Wildings stories titled "When Loves Comes Knocking" which is now included in the boxed set of Wildings stories, THE WILDINGS: A Family Saga, Penelope Thoroughgood takes in laundry from the Iron Slipper Saloon and Bordello as well as from the bachelors in the town of Hazard, Wyoming. This is the only way for her to eek out a living after her husband was shot dead cheating at cards. Washing laundry in 1912 was a far cry from the convenience we have today.

I remember my grandmother washing clothes and linens on the back porch of her Victorian farm house in Pennsylvania. She had an old wringer washing machine. At least she had electricity. She talked about the lye soap she used and how it made her hands raw. Having never used lye soap myself, I had no idea what the soap was made of or why it made her hands raw, so I dug into some research about the history of soap.

I found some very complicated chemical analysis of how soap works that made my eyes cross and my brain numb. Suffice it to say, it basically lifts the dirt and oils away from the fibers in the cloth, emulsifies the fat (makes it water soluble), and allows the whole mess to be rinsed away. Soap has been around a very long time in its various forms. The earliest on record is around 2800 BC in ancient Babylon. A formula for soap consisting of water, alkali, and cassia oil was written on a Babylonian clay tablet around 2200 BC.


The Ebers papyrus (Egypt, 1550 BC) indicates the ancient Egyptians bathed regularly and combined animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to create a soap-like substance.

In the reign of Nabonidus (556–539 BC), a recipe for soap consisted of ashes, cypress oil and sesame seed oil.

The ancient Romans used oils messaged into their body which they then scraped off along with the dirt with a special instrument called a strigil. In Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis, he mentions the manufacture of soap from tallow and ashes, but he only sites its use as a pomade for hair. Aretaeus of Cappadocia, in the first century AD, noted that among Celts, men called Gauls, used alkaline substances that are made into balls called “soap.”

Galen describes soap-making using lye and prescribed washing with it to carry away impurities from the body and clothes. According to Galen, the best soaps were Germanic, and soaps from Gaul were second best.

In the Middle East, a 12th-century Islamic document describes the process of soap production. It mentions the key ingredient, alkali, which later becomes crucial to modern chemistry, derived from al-qaly or “ashes.”

In Medieval Europe, soap-makers in Naples were members of a guild in the late sixth century. By the eighth century, soap-making was well known in Italy and Spain. The royal will of Charlemagne, mentions soap as one of the products the stewards of royal estates were to keep an account of. Can you imagine being given soap via a will?

By the second half of the 15th century, France began the semi-industrialized, professional manufacture of soap concentrated in a few centers of Provence— Toulon, Hyères, and Marseille which supplied the rest of France. By 1525, in Marseilles, production was concentrated in at least two factories, and soap production at Marseille tended to produce more than the other Provençal centers. English manufacture of soap was concentrated in London.

Finer soaps were later produced in Europe from the 16th century, using vegetable oils (such as olive oil) as opposed to animal fats. Many of these soaps are still produced, both industrially and by small-scale artisans. Castile soap is a popular example of the vegetable-only soaps derived from the oldest “white soap” of Italy.

Until the Industrial Revolution, soap-making was conducted on a small scale and the product was rough. Andrew Pears started making a high-quality, transparent soap in 1807 in London. His son-in-law, Thomas J. Barratt, opened a factory in Isleworth in 1862.

Robert Spear Hudson began manufacturing a soap powder in 1837, initially by grinding the soap with a mortar and pestle. American manufacturer Benjamin T. Babbitt introduced marketing innovations that included sale of bar soap and distribution of product samples. William Hesketh Lever and his brother, James, bought a small soap works in Warrington in 1886 and founded what is still one of the largest soap businesses, formerly called Lever Brothers and now called Unilever. These soap businesses were among the first to employ large-scale advertising campaigns.

Liquid soap was not invented until 1865, when William Shepphard patented a liquid version of soap. In 1898, B.J. Johnson developed a soap made of palm and olive oils. His company, the B.J. Johnson Soap Company, introduced "Palmolive" brand soap. This new kind of soap became popular to such a degree that B.J. Johnson Soap Company changed its name to Palmolive. At the turn of the Twentieth century, Palmolive was the world's best-selling soap.

But, of course, pioneer women had little access to all these wonderful manufactured soap products. They had to make soap themselves and it was a difficult and nasty process. Twice a year, in spring and late fall, probably for the good weather since soap was generally made outside in a huge cauldron.

Making soap was one of the hardest and nastiest of chores, but also one of the most important. Soap was made from ashes, water, and fat. Early spring and late fall were the most popular times for making soap. People saved table scraps and lard all winter for use in spring soap-making. Soap-making required skill in judging correct proportions and temperatures and the process was not always successful. First, water was poured through wood ashes to produce lye. According to the domestic manual, one made soft soap by boiling the lye until it was strong enough to "eat off the soft part of a feather." The grease and lye were then boiled together to produce soap thick enough to form cakes at the bottom of a cup of cold water. This produced a soft, dark yellow paste for washing clothes. To make hard cakes of soap, the lye had to be strong enough "to float an egg." Grease was added to the lye and the mixture boiled until thick, when salt was added. The mixture hardened for a day, then was melted down again before forming hard cakes of soap for bathing. 6 bushels of ashes plus 50 pounds of grease yielded 1 tub of soap.

Of course, modern soap is made with different ingredients such as palm oil and olive oil and the alkali is obtained from a more refined, sodium hydroxide. Essential oils or herbs are added for a delicious scent to make it perfect for a luxurious bath.

If you want to learn how to make soap, here is more information:



Wood Ridge Homestead

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Murder and Mayhem in the Crowsnest Pass by Elizabeth Clements

            Coal mining was not the only activity thriving in the Crowsnest Pass of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in the early 1900s. The enforcement of prohibition in Alberta from 1916 to 1923 escalated another industry: bootlegging. The whiskey and rum-running trade along the Canada/U.S. border had kept the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) busy in the previous century.  Prohibition, WWI, and the departure of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP) from the prairie provinces left a gap in police enforcement to handle the heightened criminal bootlegging activity thriving in southwestern Alberta. Thus, the Alberta Provincial Police (APP) was hastily created on March 1, 1917, to fill that need. The APP operated until 1932 when it was disbanded due to tight financial times created by the Great Depression.

            In 1916 Alberta was mandated dry but not British Columbia, thus making the Crowsnest Pass and its dense forests and mountainous terrain a tempting hot bed of illegal liquor smuggling for entrepreneurs.  And one man knew all the tricks to protect his lucrative new sideline.


Emilio Picariello was born in Capriglia Irpina, Italy in 1879 (or 1877) and at age 20, immigrated to the United States in 1899. The next year he met and married Maria Marucci, a housekeeper at a boarding house where he lived. Two years later they moved to Toronto, Canada where he worked at being a laborer and an electrician, saved his money and purchased an Italian grocery. It is unclear from my research what prompted Emilio in 1911 to move his family across Canada to Fernie, British Columbia (B.C.), where he found work at a macaroni factory. When the owner relocated to Alberta, Emelio rented the building and hired women to roll cigars.

Always the entrepreneur, the larger-than-life Emelio began manufacturing ice cream. In the summer of 1916 he sold ice cream from his wagon. His frozen treat became so popular that he expanded his operation by establishing ice cream parlors in Trail and in Blairmore, Alberta. At one time he manufactured ice cream at an incredible rate of 400 imperial gallons per day. When people couldn’t afford to pay, he accepted empty bottles, which he resold to bottlers in British Columbia. He became known as “The Bottle King” and even advertised in newspapers that he’d pay top prices to buy bottles. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

About this same time, prohibition was mandated in Alberta in 1916, although alcohol could still be legally imported. Never one to miss an opportunity, Emelio used two Ford Model T’s to begin transporting alcohol from B.C. to the small Alberta mining communities in the Crowsnest Pass, and even as far as Lethbridge. Then when British Columbia also entered prohibition in 1917, Emelio moved his operation to Blairmore, Alberta, because of its proximity to Montana, a state that did not ban the sale of alcohol. This location was also close to the distilleries in B.C. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Emelio bought the Alberta Hotel in Blairmore and made it the base of his rum-running operation. As luck would have it, Alberta banned the importation of alcohol in 1918. So, much like Al Capone’s secretive tunnel operations through the train station in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Picariello went underground, literally, by excavating a hidden room under his hotel. A tunnel was dug out to a road where the smugglers could park, unobserved, and tote the alcohol through the tunnel. In case any noise should filter up into the hotel, Emelio hired a pianist to play in the hotel’s lounge.

By 1918, Picariello’s operations had grown to such an extent that he needed more vehicles and replaced his Ford Model T’s with three larger McLaughlins (numbering six by 1922). More than just a Bottle King now, he acquired the nickname Emperor Pic due to not only his wealth, but his generosity with his friends and giving to the poor. When the coal miners went on strike in 1918, he cashed in war bonds and distributed money amongst the poor. This generosity endeared him to his recipients, which may also have contributed to him being elected to a seat on Blairmore’s town council—despite it being widely known he was involved in bootlegging.

Owning a thriving hotel and several ice cream parlors in the Crowsnest area certainly gave Picariello some advantage—it would not appear unusual or suspicious to see his vehicles traveling about the area, making or receiving various deliveries. Despite his precautions, Picariello’s growing success did not go unnoticed and drew the attention of the newly-formed Alberta Provincial Police (APP). In an attempt to halt the smuggling trade, the APP set up road checks along the main route through the mountains. Picariello thwarted many of those efforts by lining the sides of his vehicles with sacks of flour and burying the alcohol underneath a couple of layers of flour sacks. He counted on the APP to do only a cursory check for booze, if any. After this successful ploy, he gave away the sacks to the poor. Another crafty manoeuver was to have vehicles travel several car lengths apart, with the first empty of illegal cargo and the second car loaded with hidden booze. If the police stopped to check the decoy car, the second car would either drive by while the police were occupied searching the first or they would keep enough of a distance that they could retreat undetected.


No doubt this is where Filumena Lossandro (nee Costanza) featured in the scenario. Born in Cosenza, Italy in 1900, Filumena immigrated with her family to Canada in 1909. In Fernie, B.C. she met and married her husband who was a chauffeur for Picariello and later became involved in the bootlegging operations. As an employee of Picariello, she’d perhaps be in the lead car, either driving or as a passenger, and using all her feminine wiles, would keep the police distracted. She was also rumored to be Emilio’s mistress, even though he was married and had six (or seven) children. She was definitely with Emilio on that fateful September day in 1922 when their world fell apart. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Earlier that day of September 21st during a sting operation, Constable Lawson of the APP had been in a car chase with Stefan Picariello, Emelio’s oldest son. The policeman shot Stefan in the hand. Upon hearing the news and thinking his son was dead, Emelio, accompanied by Filumena confronted the policemen. During the argument, Lawson was shot and later died. Emilio and Filumena were arrested the next day and charged with murder. They pled not guilty and managed to be tried together (to supposedly save the Crown court costs) but in actuality, they thought they stood a better chance of being acquitted because of Filumena being a woman. After all, female murderers were rare. The police could not establish which of the suspects had pulled the trigger because they weren’t confessing and the only witness was the constable’s very young daughter. The trial was held in Calgary in late December 1922. The jury found them guilty and sentenced to hang.

Emelio and Filumena were executed on May 2, 1923 just a few months before prohibition ended. Filumena is the only woman to ever have been hung in Alberta.

Several books have been published about Emperor Pic’s life. When this writer visited the Crowsnest Pass, particularly the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre in the late 1990s, a play was performed there about Emelio and Filumena. Regrettably, I can’t recall for certain if I saw it, but the crime piqued my interest. I do recall watching the stunning short film made of Turtle Mountain’s massive rock slide. Even all these years later I recall the dark screen, the sound of a single rock tumbling through the darkness, then a second, a third and then a rush of rocks hurtling down the mountain and spilling thousands of tons through the valley. I wrote a blog about it last year.

The life-size cardboard cut-outs of miners and their wives displayed in the Interpretive Center haunt me to this day. It compelled me to write a book about it. That story I condensed a couple years ago into a novella and set it in a fictitious town in Colorado. It’s part of an anthology called Hot Western Nights published by Prairie Rose Publications. Below is an excerpt from Diamond Jack's Angel. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Clements Photography.

Excerpt: Diamond Jack's Angel

Jack Williams rode up the mountain trail to pick up his shirts. He could have had them done at the laundry in town, but he liked to give Angela a little help. He snorted. Who am I kidding? I just like seeing her. Too bad she doesn't feel the same.

Angela had made it quite clear she disapproved of him when more than once she had come into town to look for her grandfather in the saloons. For some reason the old miner preferred his saloon and often stayed too long. A few times when old Leopold got too deep into his cups, Jack had taken him home to the camp, afraid he’d fall off the mountain if he didn’t.

Coming up through the trees, Jack saw a woman and a dog standing at the edge of the clearing. No other women lived here, but he’d recognize Angela’s shape anywhere. She was the only female in Brookstown who wore her golden hair in a braided crown on her head, just like a princess would wear a tiara. Just once, he’d love to see her hair flowing around her shoulders.

“It’s me—Jack,” he called so she would know it was a friend approaching. At least he hoped she saw him as a friend.



Link for Diamond Jack’s Angel/Hot Western Nights Anthology