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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Confessions of a Word Nerd

     Several years ago, I wrote a blog about the challenge faced by historical fiction authors of using words that were common during the era when the story was set. (The word graphics are from that blog.) Since then, I’ve continued to struggle with my tendency to assume that a word is old when it turns out not to be. I’d like to share with you more of my discoveries.

     When I was looking for a term to describe “a small amount” to use in a story set in the late 1890’s two possibilities came to mind – tad and dab. I looked them up and was surprised to learn that “tad” as a small amount was not used until 1915, even though it had been previously used to reference a small child. So “tad” was out for my story.

     I had better luck with “dab.” Although the noun was used to mean a “heavy blow with a weapon,” from around 1300, the definition of a small lump or mass dates back to 1749. I could use “dab” in the story.

     In my book about the fight for women’s suffrage, I wanted the protagonist to talk about the breakdown in the Senate between supporters and opponents. But the term “breakdown” in the sense of such an analysis did not show up until 1934. Consequently, I had to use more cumbersome wording.

Excerpt from the 12th Amendment

      The 12th Amendment first came into play in 1804, putting the presidential and vice-presidential candidates from the same political party on one ticket. However, the term “running mate” in the political sense did not come into play until 1888. Prior to that, the term running mate referred to a horse entered in a race to set the pace for a stablemate that had a better chance of winning.

     A term that evolved in the opposite political direction is “executive.” The political use, as in the sense of the “executive” branch of government responsible to carry out and enforce the laws passed by the legislative branch, goes back to 1776. But the meaning relating to people in the upper echelon of a business hierarchy did not come into American usage until 1902.

A car in the time before "beep" was a noun

     A big surprise was the use of “beep.” The word derives from the sound of certain early automobile horns. Although automobiles were numerous, especially in cities, in the first decade of the 1900s, the use of “beep” as a noun and a verb did not become common until 1929.

             A similar tendency is to assume a word is too new to use in my stories that take place around the turn of the 20th century. One that pleasantly surprised me is “digs,” meaning the place where a person lives or stays. I had always associated it with the beatnik and hippie cultures of the mid-20th century. It turns out that the first use of “digs” in this context dates back to 1893.


              Lastly, when writing about the 1918 pandemic, I wanted to refer to a “bout of influenza.” The term “bout” has been around with various meanings since the days of Middle English. However, “bout” as a “term of illness” had not found its way into the common American vernacular until 1939. 

          These are just a few examples of why I have to write and edit with my etymology dictionaries and similar references close by.


             Have you ever been surprised by the origin of a word?

   Ann Markim




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Monday, October 25, 2021

The Power and Romance of Names - Lindsay Townsend

Roman gravestone made by Publius Iulius Cosmus for his wife FlaviaIn Ursula le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy, names are part of the magic and being of characters, and to discover someone's true name is to gain power over that person.

Names have power and significance in romance, too. If a hero has a bulky, awkward name, do readers empathise with him? If a heroine has an 'old-fashioned' name, does she lose credibility?

I write medieval historical romances, and I find how I name my people vitally important. For instance, in the Anglo-Saxon period, there are many names beginning with E or AE - EDGAR, EDITH, EGBERT, ELDRED, ALFRED. These names have power and meaning - EGBERT means 'Gleaming Sword' - yet they possibly have fallen out of favour. How many heroes are called EGBERT now? ARTHUR is another name that may look old-fashioned to some. The meaning of ARTOS, 'bear' is wonderful to me, though, and made me fall utterly in love with the name again.

I always try to discover if names have meanings and bear those meanings in mind as I write. For example, my heroine in A Knight's Captive is called SUNNIVA, which means Sun Gift. It's a Viking name, still used in parts of Britain. AVERIL is another name I would love to use sometime - it's meaning is 'Wild boar battle maid'. 

I kept with Viking/Anglo-Saxon names in my early medieval romances "The Snow Bride" and "A Summer Bewitchment". At this time, I felt that more Norman names should be used for the Anglo-Norman characters in my stories and as such are an indication of class. After 1066 and the Norman conquest of England, the Anglo-Normans were in charge. My hero and heroine have older names, being part of the native peoples. MAGNUS, my hero has a name which means 'Great' and it's a name that was used by Scandinavian and Orcadian rulers. My heroine, ELFRIDA, has a name meaning 'hidden strength', which I thought appropriate, since she is a powerful witch. Also I wanted the 'Elf' part of her name to be a clue as to her looks and fey character. 

Staying with the northern/Viking theme I called Magnus' and Elfrida's grandson SWEIN. as my Master Cook looks like Magnus and has some of Elfrida's gifts in magic. (To read more, please see my novel "The Master Cook and the Maiden.")

Nicknames can show affection, as Swein's brother does when he calls my burly cook 'Ram', explaining that his sibling gained the nickname after charging into situations as a boy, much like a battering-ram. 

Nicknames can also reveal deliberate cruelty. Eithne, the heroine in my romance "The Viking and the

Pictish Princess" is called BINDWEED by the old woman who takes her in, mocking the child's loss and change in circumstances and dismissing the girl's need for comfort with the glib, "she clings" - like bindweed. Part of the story deals with the recovery of Bindweed's early memories and her true Pictish name, all as part of Eithne rediscovering herself. 

As a historical romance writer I try to use names I feel are appropriate to the period in which I'm writing. Sometimes names can deceive. RICHARD means 'tough ruler' but the Richard in "Sir Conrad and the Christmas Treasure," is revealed to be rather less than kingly!

So names do matter, as a clue to a character's background and nature or as a key to period. I am always filled with admiration for fantasy and science fiction romance writers who devise names. Of course, sometimes names cannot be avoided: I read a good historical war-and-romance novel (The Assyrian by Nicholas Guild) and the names there - all authentic - were very difficult to me: very long and multi-syllabled.

For me, at least, some names are to be avoided!

Do you have favourite names or names with particular meaning?

Monday, October 11, 2021

Since this is the month of “Trick or Treat,” I’m sharing a blog I wrote a few years ago for the celebration. I hope you enjoy it.

Most everyone knows that Halloween, October 31, is the day before All Saints or All Hallows Day. But did you know that some of our modern traditions grew from the ancient Celts more than 2000 years ago? The Celtic festival of Samhain, or the Feast of the Dead, celebrates the day when summer ends and winter begins. It is believed to be the day when the dead revisit the mortal world.

Carving pumpkins—or jack-o-lanterns—dates from the 18th century, when a blacksmith named Jack consorted with the devil and was condemned to wander the earth as punishment. He begged the Devil for some light and was given a burning coal, which he placed inside a hollowed-out turnip. When the Irish came to the United States during the great potato famine, the practice of keeping a turnip with a candle in it in the window to ward off the Halloween demons came with them. Since pumpkins were easier to get here than turnips, the substitution was made and a new tradition was born and shared.

Wearing costumes also dates back to Celtic times. On Samhain night, when the living and the dead were at their closest, the Celtic Druids would dress up in elaborate costumes to disguise themselves as spirits and devils to avoid being carried away by the real thing at the end of the night. To this day, witches, goblins, and ghosts remain the most popular choices for the costumes. I’m not sure many demons would be frightened off by Iron Man or Hannah Montana.

And the masks? From earliest times people wore hideous masks when disasters struck, believing they would frighten away the demons that had brought the misfortune upon them.

So, when you venture out to ring doorbells and threaten tricks to get treats, beware! The spirits of the past will be looking over your shoulder. I suggest you share your candy.


Tracy Garrett

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Poison in the Pot

Poison in the Pot 

The 19th Century Whistleblower and the Poison Squad 

C. A. Asbrey

Accum’s book “A Treatise on Adulterations of Food and Culinary Poisons”. A spider lurks in the middle of the web over its prey, and a skull crowns the entire collection with a caption: “There is death in the pot”

From the 2008 Chinese milk-tainting scandal, 2013’s “Horsegate” in the UK to salmonella powdered milk, the adulteration of food has been in the news a fair bit recently.  Back in the 19th century, a German scientist Friedrich Accum not only denounced the use of chemical additives as poison but named the companies that were doing it.

The modification of food is as old as the selling of it.  Fines for adulterating food appear in Sanskrit laws dating back to around 300 BC. Warnings about peddling risky foodstuffs filter into the Bible, including a very pointed passage in Leviticus about bad meat. Similar warnings occur in Chinese writings dating back to the second century BC, as well as in the literature of the ancient Greek and Romans. Pliny the Elder wrote sadly of wine purveyors who “I regret to say, employ noxious herbs” to color wine, creating both a more beautiful and more toxic drink. What changed is the 19th century was a drastic increase of additives used in the industrial preparation and packaging of foods.
Friedrich Accum

Friedrich Accum explained to his readers that there was a high lead content in Spanish olive oil, caused by the lead containers used to clear the oil, and recommended using oil from other countries such as France and Italy, where this was not practiced. He warned against bright green sweets sold by itinerant merchants in the streets of London as the color was produced with “sapgreen”, a colorant with high copper content. “Vinegar”, he explained to his readers, “was frequently mixed with sulphuric acid in order to increase its acidity.”
Accum paid particular attention to beer, introducing the subject with the comment: “Malt beverages, and especially port, the preferred drink of the inhabitants of London and other large cities, is among the items which is most frequently adulterated in the course of supply.” He claimed that English beer was occasionally mixed with molasses, honey, vitriol, pepper and even opium. Among the most shocking customs he pointed out was the practice of adding fishberries to port.

Accum was the first to point out the dangerous use of additives and the profiting thereof: "The man who robs a fellow subject of a few shillings on the high-way,is sentenced to death; while he who distributes a slow poison to a whole community, escapes punishment."

Only a year after publication Accum left England after an improbable lawsuit was brought against him.

Theft of paper :14 pence

A librarian called Sturt reported to his superiors at the Royal Institution that on November 5, 1820, a number of pages were removed from books in the reading room, books Accum had read. On the instructions of his superiors, Sturt cut a small hole in the wall of the reading room to watch Accum from an adjoining room. On the evening of December 20, Sturt claimed to see Accum tear out and walk off with a paper concerning the ingredients and uses of chocolate. The paper had been in an issue of Nicholson’s Journal. Accum’s premises on Old Compton Street were searched on the order of a magistrate for the City of London.  They identified what was probably waste-paper as pages from the books.

The Magistrate after hearing the whole of the Case observed that however valuable the books might be from which the leaves found in Mr Accum’s house had been taken, yet the leaves separated from them were only waste paper. If they had weighed a pound he would have committed him for the value of a pound of waste paper, but this not being the case he discharged him.

The Royal Institution committee that met on December 23, 1820 was not, however, satisfied with this judgment, and decided to issue a lawsuit against Accum for theft of paper valued at 14 pence.  Two of his friends were included in the indictment: the publisher Rudolph Ackermann and the architect John Papworth. These three appeared in court and paid altogether 400 pounds sterling as surety.  Accum, apparently frightened and depressed, did not make an appearance at the court session. He had fled England and returned to Germany.

It would take another forty years and the work of other equally outraged scientists—including the discovery that arsenic was rather lethally being used to color candy, resulting in poisoned children—before Britain passed its first law regulating food safety in 1860. But no such legislation existed in the United States, even into the first years of the twentieth century.

The Poison Squad

The following menu was for a rather unusual 1902 Christmas dinner party.

Apple Sauce.
Borax. Turkey. Borax.
Canned Stringed Beans.
Sweet Potatoes. White Potatoes.
Chipped Beef. Cream Gravy.
Cranberry Sauce. Celery. Pickles.
Rice Pudding.
Milk. Bread and Butter. Tea.
A Little Borax.

This particular menu was designed to test the toxicity of food additives. In these tests, groups of volunteers—popularly known as “Poison Squads”—agreed to dine dangerously in the interests of science, working their way through a laundry list of suspect compounds. Building on Accum’s work, Harvey Washington Wiley wanted to use the Poison Squad to persuade the U.S. government to step in and protect the nation’s food producers.Borax came first on the list, partly because it was so widely used by meat processors. It slowed decomposition and gave rotting meat a more shapely appearance. Wiley actually had a range of alarming compounds on his test list beyond borax, including formaldehyde (used to slow the souring of old milk) and copper sulfate (used to restore color to canned vegetables).
The poison squad bravely tucking into a meal

To avoid doing real harm, Wiley selected young men for his experiments. He thought they would be healthy enough to withstand a daily dose of poison.  However, once the borax trials got under way, the squad members began losing weight, some complaining of stomach pains and severe nausea. Two years later, when Wiley began testing benzoic acid on another group of twelve recruits, only three lasted until the end; the rest became so ill that they had to withdraw.

The Poison Squad was also memorialized in songs and advertisements . The most famous was probably “The Song of the Pizen (Poison) Squad,” by poet S.W. Gillilan, a poem that exaggerated the squad’s exploits::

For we are the Pizen Squad.
On Prussic acid we break our fast;
We lunch on a morphine stew;
We dine with a match-head consommé
drink carbolic acid brew

The human lab rats were “twelve young clerks, vigorous and voracious.” All were graduates of the civil service exam, all were screened for “high moral character,” and all had reputations for “sobriety and reliability.” One was a former Yale sprinter, another a captain in the local high school’s cadet regiment, and a third a scientist in his own right. All twelve took oaths, pledging one year of service, promising to only eat food that was prepared in the Poison Squad’s kitchen, and waiving their right to sue the government for damages — including death — that might result from their participation in the program.

Squad members needed a lot of patience. Before each meal, they had to weigh themselves, take their temperatures and check their pulse rates. Their stools, urine, hair and sweat were collected, and they had to submit to weekly physicals. When one member got a haircut without permission, he was allegedly sent back to the barber with orders to collect his shorn locks. Most of the squad members didn’t get extra pay for their hazardous duty: in return for their patience and obedience, they received three square meals a day — all of which were carefully poisoned.

There was one more rule: although many of the most prominent food crusaders were women, squad members had to be men. An outspoken misogynist, Dr. Wiley was prone to referring to women as “savages,” claiming that they lacked “the brain capacity” of men. His staff was similarly inclined: when the program replaced Chef Perry with a female cook, one worker griped that ladies were not fit for cooking — or poisoning. “A woman! Tut, tut. Why the very idea!,” he reportedly said, “A woman can potter around a domestic hearth, but when it comes to frying eggs in a scientific mode and putting formaldehyde in the soup — never.”

Harvey Washington Wiley 

Wiley had other quirks. A Civil War veteran and graduate of Indiana Medical College and Harvard, he was among the first professors hired at Purdue University. He was also one of the first fired, an unfortunate turn of events that occurred when he scandalized the University administration by playing baseball and buying a bicycle -– a mode of conveyance that, in the words of one of the University’s trustees, made him look “like a monkey … astride a cartwheel.”


At Purdue, Wiley experimented with food additives, testing each chemical by, in his words, “trying it on the dog.” Soon after getting hired by the Agriculture Department, he waded into the pure food fight, pushing for federal regulation of additives. In response, high-paid lobbyists from the packing and canning industries went on the offensive, shutting down each of Wiley’s proposed bills.

To show the physical costs of food additives, Wiley designed the table trials — and convinced Congress to give him $5,000 to fund them. Officially, the goal was to “investigate the character of food preservatives, coloring matters, and other substances added to foods, to determine their relation to digestion and to health, and to establish the principles which should guide their use.” Unofficially, Wiley hoped to use the table trials as a springboard to enact widespread food regulation.

Wiley’s first target was borax. One of the most common food preservatives in 1902, it tightened up animal proteins, giving the impression of freshness; consequently, packers often used it to doctor decomposing meat. From October 1902 to July 1903, Wiley’s squad ate it with every meal, as was demonstrated by a Christmas menu published by the Poison Squad’s kitchen: “Apple Sauce. Borax. Soup. Borax. Turkey. Borax. Borax. Canned Stringed Beans. Sweet Potatoes. White Potatoes. Turnips. Borax. Chipped Beef. Cream Gravy. Cranberry Sauce. Celery. Pickles. Rice Pudding. Milk. Bread and Butter. Tea. Coffee. A Little Borax.”

The Poison Squad soon became famous for its borax consumption, and Wiley became popularly known as “Old Borax.” Before long, the group determined that borax did, indeed, cause headaches, stomachaches, and other digestive pains…in addition to imparting an unpleasant flavor to food.

Borax defeated, the poison squad moved on to test other common additives, including sulfuric acid, saltpeter and formaldehyde. One of their targets, copper sulfate, was especially disturbing: used by food producers to turn canned peas a bright shade of green, it also caused a host of health woes, including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, liver damage, kidney damage, brain damage, and jaundice. Today, it’s commonly used as a pesticide.

Even after Wiley’s squad managed to demonstrate the negative effects of several additives, he still had to fight against the powerful food lobby. In fact, the Secretary of Agriculture himself suppressed several of the Poison Squad’s reports; the one on benzoic acid only got out because a staffer misunderstood his orders and sent it out to print while the Secretary was on vacation.

But while lobbyists could suppress Wiley’s findings, they couldn’t control newspapers, which breathlessly reported on the group’s menus and members, its poisons and their effects. Afraid that the press might trivialize his efforts, Wiley tried to stem the tide, instituting a blackout and threatening to fire any member of the squad who leaked information. This didn’t keep stories from appearing in the papers: denied access to facts, reporters printed rumors and made up elaborate tales. Eventually, Wiley relented, and began to actively publicize the squad. As he later bragged, “My poison squad laboratory became the most highly advertised boarding-house in the world.”

Since that time, really dangerous food—the term food poisoning, even—has tended to refer to bacterial contamination issues rather than toxic chemical contamination.

Still, the public continues to worry about pesticide residues, preservatives, genetically modified food and food dyes.  But thanks to the work of Accum, Wiley, his valiant poison squads, and a host of other crusaders, we aren’t likely to be killed by arsenic-dyed candy or formaldehyde-improved milk.


In All Innocence

“Nat, take a look at this.” Jake held out a sketch pad.

The dark eyes scanned the parchment before they darted back to his partner. “The whole railway car?”

“Yup. When one of the butlers was sayin’ he was sketchin’ I thought I’d have a look to see if it was any use to us.” He smiled. “I think it is. We can see where people were just before the murder.”

“It sure is. Look at that. Everyone in their place. I guess the ones playing the game with blindfolds moved about, though.” The cheeks dimpled. “And we can see exactly where that was. This is a real good drawing. Who did it?” He scanned the cabin and smiled at the lean man whose receding chin disappeared into his starched collar. “Ah, yes. The one who spoke up.”

Jake held the pad out at arm’s length and turned the page to look at a few unfinished etchings. “He’s talented. He’s caught your lopsided face real well.”

Nat’s mouth firmed into a line. “My face isn’t lopsided.”

“Yeah, it is. It might look fine from your side, but you should see it from here.” 

Nat turned indignant eyes on the conductor. “Farrow, is my face lopsided?”

The man gave Nat a long, hard stare. “Not lopsided exactly, but one eye’s bigger than the other.” He pointed, staring at the right one. “Well, maybe not bigger. A different shape? It’s got more lines about it. Funny, I never noticed it until you pointed it out. It’s kinda different from one side to the other.”

“No, it’s not.” Nat stabbed a gloved forefinger at the drawing. “I’ve always been told my eyes are my best feature.”

Jake’s guffaw cut through the railway car. “Maybe for their variety?” He glanced between the sketch and his nephew.

“In the drawing, it might be. Not in real life,” said Nat. 

Jake snapped the pad shut and grinned. “I guess the problem ain’t so much that your eyes don’t match some romantic hero, it’s more that they don’t match each other. It don’t matter none. Abi loves you anyway, and the babe seems to take after her ma.”

The partners watched Farrow’s retreating back as he followed the driver and the fireman down the aisle toward the latrines.

“And you’re so perfect?” Nat demanded. “What about those curls? You look like that boy in the advertisement for tar soap; the one in frilly knickerbockers.”

One slim, fair brow arched in retort. “At least they picked him because he was sweet-lookin’. Not because he’s lopsided. That ain’t gonna sell soap.” Jake paused pensively. “Your face might sell some kinda cure, though.”

“I’m not lopsided.” Nat dropped his voice to a hiss. “My description in the wanted posters said I have even features.”

“Good point.” The blue eyes sparkled with humor. “I guess it was such a good description you were recognized everywhere you went, huh? That’s why you’re in jail right now.”

“I can’t talk to you when you’re like this. It’s like trying to order a cat around.”

“You should be more grateful, Nat. I just got you a picture of where everyone was just before the second murder. Whoever it was would have to try to get past Mrs. Hunter and Philpot in the back row.”

“Yup. I have one more thing to find out. Where did Farrow go?” Nat nodded toward the sketch pad in Jake’s hand. “And take those. We don’t want anyone to have pictures of us.”

“So you agree it looks like you?”

“Just take the pad, Jake.” Nat sighed at his uncle’s laughing eyes. “Tell him we need it for evidence.”


Monday, October 4, 2021


Part Two: Underground Tunnels and Wolf Caves by Elizabeth Clements

Isn’t it interesting  what a chance encounter can lead to? Back in the 1990’s, a giant poster in a booth at the Medicine Hat Exhibition & Stampede drew my attention and the lonely-looking author seated at the table with a stack of her book. Most Stampede attendees are more interested in buying cowboy hats or candy floss than a book to carry around on the midway or while watching rodeo events. Being a writer myself, I had empathy for her, stopped to chat, and bought her book—One Hundred Years of Grasslands. It remains my favorite book of all my dozens of research books of Canadian history.

Marjorie Rohde Mason was born and raised on a ranch in the Grasslands region of southern Saskatchewan. The ranch has been in her family for over a hundred years and thus she had heard lots of stories passed down about the lawless days of horse-thieves and cattle rustlers in the Big Muddy badlands. The book is full of history and reminisces by pioneers of the area. One quote speaks volumes: “Most of the time, you could not tell the colour of the horses for mosquitos.” One chapter heading and photograph particularly intrigued me: wolf caves. I had to visit them.

Nineteen years ago we made that trip to celebrate the new millennium. The day following our tour of the Chinese tunnels in Moose Jaw (Part 1), we drove approximately 160 kilometers south to the hamlet of Coronach. As luck would have it, we were the only ones who’d booked a tour that day, so instead of being crammed in a passenger van with a dozen  tourists, we had the guide all to ourselves in the comfort of our van with her giving my husband directions. What a stroke of luck that was having her undivided attention! I took lots of pictures and notes, which I can’t find right now,  so I’m writing from nineteen-year-old memories, Marjorie’s book, and a little help from Google for pictures.

Many of the places our guide took us to were located on private land, under lock and key, accessible only through her. We wandered around a one-room schoolhouse where we saw old school desks,  a pot-bellied stove, lessons  written on the blackboard and breathed in the dusty air of the old building.  In my mind I heard the children’s voices reciting their lessons, imagined the teacher walking down the aisles checking their arithmetic, and glanced out the tall fly-specked windows at the two outhouses near the play area.

We visited an Indian burial site and ceremonial circles that were fenced off.  Two particularly interesting sites  displayed effigies of a large turtle and also a buffalo, each a pattern of carefully placed stones that have rested undisturbed for decades. “Dakota Siksika legends use turtles to represent wise and highly respected people. Buffalo were the “staff of life” for Indigenous people and this (buffalo) effigy is believed to be the only one in Canada if not North America.”

Then at last we left the main road and traveled along a gravel trail on private land to the old Giles ranch. I still remember the lonely, deserted feel of the weathered fence rails with no cattle or horses in sight, the heat blasting on my shoulders, and the stillness of the prairie with only the breeze whispering stories too low to hear. Our guide had keys to unlock the gate. I don’t recall a sign on the gate then, but apparently one exists now that warns “All trespassers will be given a fair trial and then hung.”  Friendly, eh?

We drove a little further, disembarked, and at last I gazed at the entrance to Sam Kelly’s caves. One cave was used by the outlaws and the other held their horses to keep them hidden from sight. The caves were originally occupied by wolves; outlaws enlarged them. (For the safety of modern-day tourists, the caves have been reinforced with wooden beams.) 

I ducked inside the bigger one used by the men and just stood there, eyes closed, and breathed in the cloying smell of dirt walls all around me. Imagined two outlaws hunched over a tiny fire, heating their coffee and beans while another outlaw kept watch above on the high bluff for any sign of the red-coated North West Mounted Police approaching. If so, he’d warn the others and they’d rush their stolen horses across the narrow gully and up the slope of Peake's Butte  and cross the International Boundary (49th parallel) just a few yards away. There was also an escape tunnel in case the "Redcoats" were to close.

This memory was used in the third book of my trilogy: Beneath A Desperado Moon which will be published sometime next year by Prairie Rose Publications. Reliving these memories, I may just want to go back and revisit that cave <grin>.

This area of the Big Muddy was the first point of the Outlaw Trail, which was carefully organized well over a century ago by Butch Cassidy and  Kid Curry (whose real name was Harvey Logan). Patterned after the successful efficiency of the Pony Express before railroads made the Express obsolete, Butch had set up relay stations all along the route from Canada to New Mexico for the convenience of The Wild Bunch. Butch arranged to always have stations equipped with fresh horses, food, and protection. There were “friendly” American ranchers all along the border and down through the western states who willingly helped the outlaws by keeping fresh horses at the ready. For more information about the Outlaw Trail in the Big Muddy area, check out this link:

The discovery of gold in Montana enticed not only the gold-seekers but also the building of railroads to transport the ore—and ruthless outlaws who were happy to relieve them of their gold and money. The drought of 1883 caused tremendous cattle losses; the price of beef went down and many cowhands were let go accordingly. Unable to find work, many of them drifted into robbing banks and horse-stealing to survive. If you can buy or rent the movie, Monte Walsh played by Tom Selleck, here’s the trailer to give you a good idea of a cowboy’s life herding cattle: .

The Wild Bunch outlaws were excellent horsemen and accomplished horse thieves. Although they were most noted for their bank and train robberies, one branch of the gang concentrated on stealing as many as 200 horses and driving them across the border, selling them, stealing them back and fleeing into Montana and North Dakota where they’d resell them again. The Nelson-Jones Gang, reportedly a part of The Wild Bunch, and Dutch Henry were known to do this quite successfully. 

In my book, Beneath A Horse-Thief Moon, the Billy Cranston Gang was inspired by the Nelson-Jones Gang that raided the border ranches, causing a lot of grief and hardship. Nelson was a tall, skinny red-haired, red-bearded man described as having sharp eyes as “cold as fish”.

In Montana, Nelson was known as a rustler and a killer and was never without a gun. One of the stories about him involved him boldly breaking a gang member, Trotter, and another prisoner out of a Montana jail in 1894. Seffick promptly joined the outlaws. Nelson’s gang created so much trouble that ranchers banded together and posted a $1500 reward each for Nelson and Carlyle, an ex-mountie turned outlaw, and lesser amounts for several other outlaws.

Charles "Red" Nelson (also known as Sam Kelly) eventually gave himself up in Plentywood, Montana, but due to insufficient evidence and because most shootings were considered self-defense, he was released. He (ironically) bought a ranch in the Big Muddy area and it was rumored he was periodically visited by former gang members. I love this little tidbit: “If the rain barrel was tipped a certain way it was a signal to visitors that it was not safe to be in the area.” He supposedly died in 1954.

Another outlaw in my novel is French Henri, whom I mentioned in my author’s notes as being patterned after Dutch Henry, an excellent horseman and bronc buster, but best known for being a horse thief in the Big Muddy area. After being kicked out of Dodge by Wyatt Earp, Dutch hooked up with a trail drive to Montana and proceeded to swindle his boss, eventually causing the man to go bankrupt. Dutch and his men would haze as many as 400 horses across the border, selling, re-stealing and reselling just like certain members of the Wild Bunch. His gang had some interesting names: Bloody Knife, Pigeon-Toed Kid, James McNab, Duffy, and Birch. With names like the first two, no wonder they were feared by the border ranchers.

There are conflicting accounts of Dutch Henry’s death. One story is that he was killed in Canada by the North West Mounted Police—twice! Another account says he was found dead in the Minnesota brush, yet a third report claims he was hanged in Mexico. Or did he marry and live peacefully in Minnesota until he died of a gunshot wound? This has stimulated some history buffs to play detective to solve the mystery. Check out this link for a little more history on Dutch Henry:

The Big Muddy Badlands is an amazing narrow valley about a two hours’ drive south-west from Regina, Saskatchewan. It has amazing scenery, created by the Ice Age traveling through the area  millions of years ago and melt water creating all kinds of formations. Wind and rain also play a part in erosion of the cliffs and buttes. They also provide great hiding places for outlaw activity. On our last day we did some exploring on our own.

We traveled off the main roads onto a trail across the prairie to see Castle Butte, an amazing large sandstone and clay hill pockmarked with caves—perhaps wolf caves in the past?

It stands 200 feet high and is a one-quarter of a mile around the base. We didn’t climb it, but I saw all kinds of possibilities for this in a book. Apparently, some of the caves are narrow and deep so you take a risk exploring them. Years ago, when lost, people used the landmark to get their bearings again.

On our way home to Alberta, we headed west toward Eastend, south of the Cypress Hills to visit a friend. Along the way near Wood Mountain, we came across a small North West Mounted Police Museum but sadly after the Labor Day weekend, it was open only on weekends so we couldn’t go inside. Perhaps we’ll see it on our next trip. The mounted police had a base at Wood Mountain and had their hands full with whiskey smugglers and outlaws whipping in from Montana, stealing cattle and horses and escaping across the border again and avoid prosecution. All they could hope was to catch them in the act in Canada and incarcerate them.

There are lots of interesting, historic places to visit in western Canada that give you glimpses of our pioneer days, the difficult task the police force had to control the whiskey trade, horse-stealing and cattle rustling. I could only touch on a bit of that history. I’m glad you came along for the brief outing.

Note: My computer was down because of a glitch since Wednesday, so my son came to my rescue tonight...thus because of this and not feeling well, I have re-posted a blog from a couple of years ago.



Sunday, October 3, 2021

Writing - Blogging - Marketing

Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

As I work to finish my book, the thought hit me, we're coming out of our homes, going to events, and of course bookstores. The reason it hit me, I never had the option, nor did I want it, to stay inside. I continued to work, hike, and take photos. The one thing I didn't do a lot of, and I've heard others say, was writing. It just seemed harder to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

At the same time, I continued to write for the blogs I'd committed to. The exercise of following through on my promise was a good thing. It allowed me to keep the research and creative juices flowing. It was during this time that I started doing interviews for one of the blogs in addition to my regular post. 

It was also a time of education on the art of writing and how to market. So, even though I may not have gotten all the writing done on my WIPs, it was not wasted time. In fact, our writer's group still meets, just online. It has kept us all writing and connected. When we get together again, it will almost be like we never left. 

Therefore I thought I would share a bit of what I learned, or at least the resources I used.

1. My online improv writer's group

2. Attended two online conferences. (That was fun)

3. YouTube Videos. Here are a couple of favorites: How to get your life back on track

How to Show Not Tell

4. Book I found useful: 



Something I heard or read has stayed with me when it comes to marketing - People First/Books Second.

Now, what does that mean to me? It means it's more important that I connect with my readers, develop a relationship. I confess I'm still working on that one.

Some additional tidbits that fascinated me:

Raymond Chandler would type his manuscript on 4x6 note cards and something had to happen on each card. (That's approximately every 250 words)

Create a Story Box which is listing stories or ideas that resonate with you. If one stays with you for a long time, maybe it's the next story.

Write while you walk (I do that all the time, I just don't write them down. oops!)

The list could go on and on. The thing is, as people are getting back out again, are they taking the time to read, to study, to learn from others, like these blogs. Are we still going to continue to hone our craft or do we move on to something else? 

Regardless, I have set aside one morning a week, where for 2-4 hours I focus on learning something new on this author journey. What do you do?

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