Friday, March 24, 2017

How Wild Was the Old West—Really?

Recently I heard a TV commentator liken the violence of some US cities today back to the Old West.  Is that a fair comparison?  Not according to some historians. Some even go as far as to describe the Old West as a quiet, peaceful and law-abiding place.  Hard as that is to believe they may be on to something. Take a look at these facts:

The Old West Practiced Gun Control

Yep, that's right. In fact, the very first law passed in Dodge City was a gun control law.  Many towns including Tombstone had similar strict laws barring guns. Visitors were required to turn guns over to the stable owner or sheriff.  Checks or receipts were issued much like they are today when checking coats at a restaurant.  Gun owners could reclaim their weapons upon leaving town.

Not everyone followed the law, of course. Drunkenness and disorderly conduct would get you a free pass to the hoosegow, but so would toting a gun.  The gunfight of OK corral was actually sparked by an effort to enforce the "no gun" law.

Controlling crime made economical sense.  Towns wishing to attract businesses and commerce or even the railroad couldn't afford to let crime run amok. 

The Law of Wagon Trains

Some wagon trains reportedly contained more than a hundred wagons and as many as 800 people, so keeping law and order was of primary concern.  Many of these trains had their own constitutions which spelled out a judicial system. Ostracism and threats of banishment kept most travelers in line and there are few reported instances of violence on these trains.  That's pretty amazing considering the conditions and long months on the trail.

What About All That Cattle Rustling?

If we believed all those old time Western movies there wasn't a steer in the land that hadn't been rustled at least once. No question; Cattle rustling was a problem. That is until ranch owners got together and formed cattlemen associations.  These groups hired private protection agencies, which pretty much put cattle rustlers out of business.

Bank Robbers Ruled, Right?

Wrong again. According to the book Banking in the American West from the Gold Rush to Deregulation by Lynne Pierson and Larry Schweikart, only eight actual bank heists occurred in the 15 states that made up the frontier west during the forty year period between 1859-1900. (Holy Toledo! My little hometown has had more bank robberies than that just in the last decade.)  

Why so few bank robberies in the Old West?  The answer is simple; Banks were
hard to rob.  That's because they were located downtown, usually next to the sheriff's office.  It wasn't any easier to rob a bank at night. People slept above shops so the town was far from deserted. Then, too, the walls of a bank were often doubly-reinforced. Blasting through them would have brought everyone in town on the run, including the sheriff.

Some, like Butch Cassidy simply walked in the front door, but even that type of bank holdup was rare.  Robbing stagecoaches was easier. But transporting money by stage fell out of favor when trains came along.  Robbers shifting attention to trains soon had to contend with Pinkerton detectives, and that was enough to spoil anyone's fun.
What About All Those Gunslingers?

Dime novels, old newspapers and movies would have us believe that shooting from the hip and quick draw duels were the norm.  In reality, gunfights were few and far between.

Some well-known shootists (the word gunslinger didn't come into play until the 1920s) deserved their reputations but, by today's standards, most would be considered lousy shots.  Some, like Wyatt Earp, killed nowhere near as many men as they were given credit for.  A gunslinger's reputation, however exaggerated, was often as valuable as his skills. 

What fact surprised you the most about the Old West? 

Coming in June

A Match Made in Texas


There's a new sheriff in town,
 and she almost always gets her man!

Click to order

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Echo Canyon in Utah and a Giveaway

Susan Page Davis here. The beautiful trail through Echo Canyon was well used in the 1800s. The pioneers’ wagon trains found it the best way to get from Wyoming into Utah, and from there to California. From the Green River area, where Fort Bridger was located, in southwestern Wyoming, they would head down the canyon.

Before the wagons came, the trail was used by Buffalo and other animals, native Americans, and explorers.The Mormon trail followed it down to the desert and beyond. Later, stagecoaches, the Pony Express, gold and silver miners, and railroad and telegraph lines used it because it was already there and one of the easier paths through the mountains. It was simpler than blasting a new road for the railroads, and today Interstate 80 takes this route. Historian John Eldredge has graciously allowed me to share with you some of his photos of attractions in the canyon.

 The trail in the mid-1800s was a narrow pathway down a canyon leading from the grasslands near Fort Bridger, in Wyoming, to the drier lands of Utah. Some of the most vivid descriptions of it come from the journals of Mormon pioneers who traveled it by wagon, on foot, or pulling a handcart. Remains of the fortifications built by the Mormons in 1857-58, during the Mormon War, can still be seen.

William Clayton wrote, “There was a very singular echo in this ravine, the rattling of wagons resembled carpenters hammering at board inside the highest rocks. The report of a rifle resembled the sharp crack of thunder and echoes from rock to rock for some time. The lowing of cattle and braying of mules seemed to be answered beyond the mountains. Music, especially brass instruments, had a very pleasing effect and resembled a person standing inside the rock imitating every note. The echo, the high rocks on the north, high mountains on the south, with the narrow ravine for a road, formed a scenery at once romantic and more interesting than I have ever witnessed.”

How eerie and exciting this passage must have been to the early pioneers! I’ve driven this route on the highway, but I know we don’t get the full effect as we breeze past. You can't see all of the features, or the mysterious rock art, or even the best view of some of the formations. A lot of the pioneers hiked off the trail to see them. Many left their names on rocks or in caves.

Some of the notable sights along this trail include Cache Cave, which is at the head of Echo Canyon and can’t be seen from the highway. It has also been called Swallow Cave and Rock Cave. Again, from William Clayton’s 1847 journal:

               “About a quarter of a mile west from the camp is a cave in the rock about thirty feet long, fifteen feet wide and four to six feet high. There are many martins at the entrance and on observing closely, can be seen myriads of small bugs. It is supposed from appearances that there is some property cached in the cave.”

Chicken-cock Bluff was so named because of a rock with a strong resemblance to a rooster.

Coyote Rock is another name for the same formation. It looks like a completely different animal when viewed from the right perspective. In this view, Chicken-Cock Rock looks like a coyote sitting on a rock.

A. J. Russell photo, Sentinel Rock, also called Chimney Rock

Pioneer Richard Burton noticed this oddity about rock formations and wrote in 1860, “And the wondrous variety was yet more varied by the kaleidoscopic transformation caused by chance of position: at every different point the same object bore a different aspect.

On large squarish rock formation is called The Devil’s Post Office, and a smaller projection near its top is called The Devil’s Head.

Another is called Castle Rock, a large bluff made of red sandstone. Pioneer Howard Stansbury wrote in 1850 that it “almost perfectly resembled a rustic cottage, with a deep-arched doorway and gently sloping roof, covered with scattering cedars. The illusion was very strong, and became more and more perfect as we approached, until we almost expected to see someone issuing from the portal to gaze upon the passing [wagon] train.” It had become known as Castle Rock by 1868, when the railroad was being built.

Sentinel Rock is another popular formation, as are Winged Rock, Jack-in-the-Pulpit Rock, and The Witches. Many other majestic formations can be seen along this route.

The Pony Express lasted only 18 months, in 1860 and 1861. This colorful business was abandoned when the transcontinental telegraph lines were completed in the fall of 1861. In 1869, the Union Pacific laid railroad tracks through and connected with the Central Pacific at Promontory Point, Utah. Now people could ride the trains all the way to Oakland, California.

"The Witches"

To enter the giveaway of my novel, Echo Canyon, set in this location in 1860, leave a comment with your contact information. Iris Perkins is told she will be married soon to a man she despises. A chance visit by two brothers and a beautiful woman from the other side of Echo Canyon gives her hope.

Susan Page Davis is the author of more than seventy published novels. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and also a winner of the Carol Award and two Will Rogers Medallions, and a finalist in the WILLA Awards and the More Than Magic Contest. A Maine native, she lived for a while in Oregon and now lives in Kentucky. Visit her website at: , where you can sign up for her occasional newsletter and read a short story on her romance page.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Pink Castle of St. Petersburg

By Marilyn Turk

We recently took a Spring Break vacation to St. Petersburg Beach, Florida. As we crossed over the bridge to the beach, I was captivated by pink towers rising before us. The closer we got to the building the more enthralled I became. It was not our final destination, but being the history buff that I am, I knew this was no new building, and I had to find out its story. 

In 1924, Thomas Rowe was living in Virginia and suffering from health problems such as asthma. His doctor told him that if he wanted to live to old age, he should move to a more southern climate.

Rowe took the doctor’s advice and moved to the St. Petersburg area. A real estate developer, he purchased 80 acres on St. Petersburg Beach for $100,000, and in 1926, began construction of his dream hotel, “the pink castle.” Architect Henry Dupont was hired to design the hotel and Carlton Beard was the contractor.

Named for the chivalrous Don Ce-Sar in Vincent Wallace’s light opera Maritana, the hotel is a blend of Mediterranean and Moorish influence. Arched openings, red clay tile roofs, balconies and tower-like upper stories are representative of the two styles. The original design called for a $450,000 six-story hotel with 110 rooms and baths, but was expanded to ten stories, 220 rooms and baths, raising the cost to $1.25 million – 300 % over budget when it opened on January 16, 1928.

The luxury hotel attracted the rich and famous of the Jazz Age, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Clarence Darrow, Lou Gehrig, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and even gangster Al Capone. When the Great Depression hit the nation, the hotel suffered as did the rest of the economy, but Rowe struck a deal with Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert to house his team during spring training for three years, a move that kept the hotel in business during the difficult financial times.

In 1940, Rowe collapsed in the lobby from a heart attack. He refused to leave the hotel and was treated around the clock in a room on the first floor, where he died. A year later, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, "telegrams poured in with cancellations for the coming season and within weeks, 50 percent of reservations were cancelled,” according to the book the Don Ce-Sar Story, published in 1974 by local historian June Hurley Young.

Lowe’s widow saw no choice but to sell the massive hotel, and in 1942 sold it to the U.S. Army for $450,000. The Pink Palace became a hospital for recovering servicemen for twenty years until the government abandoned the building, leaving it to fall into disrepair.

The once-beautiful hotel saw years of deterioration until it was scheduled to be torn down. However, another hotelier named William Bowman Jr., stepped in at the last minute to save it in 1971. By 1972 he had the hotel reopened and ready for guests once again.

Since then, the hotel has had several updates: another outdoor pool was added; chandeliers were replaced in the main lobby, contemporary furniture was added and new shops were opened. Prudential Insurance took over ownership of the hotel 12 years ago, and Loews Hotels has managed the property, restoring the grandeur of the old hotel.
The jet-setters who have stayed at the hotel since it was brought back from the dead include a who's who: Lauren Bacall, Carol Burnett, Tim Burton, Bryan Cranston, the Bush family, and many other famous stars and musicians.
Before we left the area, I spent a few minutes roaming the hotel, taking pictures that don't do it justice, and imagining what is was like to be one of the guests during the Roaring 20's. 

Award-winning author Marilyn Turk lives in and writes about the coast – past and present. A multi-published author, she writes a lighthouse blog at Her latest release, Rebel Light, Book 1 in the Coastal Lights Legacy series, is now available along with A Gilded Curse, and Lighthouse Devotions on Marilyn is also a contributor to Daily Guideposts Devotional.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Beware the Ides of March?

Are there many English-speaking people who haven’t heard the famous quote from William Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, “beware the Ides of March,” when a soothsayer warns Caesar of this auspicious day? But while the ominous line is often-quoted, I’ve sometimes wondered about the context and origin of the line. 

Political intrigue was afoot during 44 B.C. when the Senate had declared Julius Caesar “dictator perpetuo” or as we would translate it, dictator for life. Concerns about Caesar becoming tyrannical, getting rid of the Senate, and being declared king all contributed to the fears of those who conspired against him, who were primarily Brutus and Cassius, magistrates in the Roman Senate. The plan was set for the Ides of March, the day of the meeting at which Caesar would possibly be made king. 

The Death of Caesar by Vincenzo Camuccini {PD}
But what are exactly the Ides of March, or in Latin, Eidus Martius? The ides were the midpoint of each month, around the 13th or 15th. In a longer month such as March it would be the 15th. If Latin words and Roman numerals weren’t confusing enough for us today, the Romans didn’t number the days on the calendar in sequential order, but counted backwards from three fixed points they referred to as the Nones, which were on what we would count on the fifth or seventh, the midpoint, or Ides, and the first day of the month or Kalends. 

Because the Roman calendar was based on lunar cycles, the midpoint, depending on the length of the month, indicated the time of the full moon. While Martius eventually became the third month, on the earliest Julian calendars, it was the first month. The Ides of March would be date of the first full moon of that year.

On that portentous Ides of March, in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar made his way to the Theater of Pompey for a meeting of the Senate, despite several warnings. In addition to the soothsayer, His doctors told him not to go for physical reasons, and his wife told him of her troubling dreams, then asked him not to attend. Yet, Caesar went, and joked with the soothsayer he met on the way that the Ides of March had come and nothing had happened. The soothsayer* warned him that the day was not yet over. 

Caesar arrived at the theater, was presented with a petition, and was then assassinated by stabbing. After Julius Caesar’s death, civil war led to the fall of the Republic and the  rise of the the Roman Empire, in simplified terms. 

Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar, 1802, {PD}
(illustrating a scene from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar)
While today the Ides of March is known for the assassination of Julius Caesar, previous to that it was the time of the religious observance of Anna Perenna, which concluded the celebration of the ancient Roman new year. It was a time of merrymaking for all classes in that culture. 
So . . . the Ides of March ushered in a new year or at least the end of the religious ceremonies pertaining to it, was the date of the first meeting of the Roman Senate each year, and the first full moon of the year. Perhaps Cassius and Brutus took all of these into account, according to their particular superstitions, when planning their attack. Regardless, the day is imprinted on history as a pivotal event.

And just what is today’s date according to the ancient Julian calendar? Would I count back from Kalends of the next month and wind up around the decimus of Martius? I don’t know, but I don’t think that I’ll be listing that or the Ides of March on my Google calendar this year! 

*Disclaimer: This is a Christian blog. As a Bible-believing Christian, I do not endorse the use of fortune telling in any way, shape, or form. I have alluded to soothsayers as part of Roman history and of the superstitions which Caesar adhered to. Also, this was the reference point for the quote from the Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar.

Kathleen Rouser has loved making up stories since she was a little girl and wanted to be a writer before she could read. She desires to create characters, who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. Her first full-length novel, Rumors and Promises, was published by Heritage Beacon Fiction, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, in April, 2016.

Previously a homeschool mother of three, she more recently has been a college student and is sometimes a mild-mannered dental assistant by day. Along with her sassy tail-less cat, she lives in the Midwest with her hero and husband of 35 years, who not only listens to her stories, but also cooks for her.

Meida links:
Twitter: @KathleenRouser
Pinterest: https:/ /

Monday, March 20, 2017

Traveling the Oregon Trail Backwards, Part 5

Sleepless Night in the Morton Mansion and the Unforgettable Guernsey Ruts

I'll be honest. I didn’t want to leave the car at the Guernsey Ruts. Now in the fourth day of our road trip adventure, the grueling pace had caught up with me. It didn't help that I’d spent a restless night despite the grandeur and comfort of the Morton Mansion.

This article is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt

Morton Mansion

The historic home of John Morton, mayor of Douglas and state representative for Wyoming’s Converse County has now closed its doors to overnight guests, joining the ranks of many vintage hotels and historic homes I’ve slept in during my travels. If you have an interest in staying in such places, sooner is usually better than later. I like to think that by reserving accommodations in historic homes and vintage hotels that I’m helping preserve them.
The Morton Mansion in Douglas, Wyoming; image by Andrew Farkas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Guernsey Ruts

I dragged myself from the car and chatted with family members while following the paved path that circled upward from the parking area. With much to see and far to drive, we’d left early, and the day’s heat hadn’t built yet. Birds trilled and wildflowers showed their faces. At the top of the rise, we stepped into history.

Traders, trappers and missionaries all traveled a route through this place, with the first recorded crossing by a fur trader named Robert Stuart on his way to Astoria, Oregon in 1812. Captain John Bartleson and John Bidwell led the very first wagon train here in 1841. Thousands followed in the years between that event and the completion of the railroad, which throttled travel on the Oregon Trail. The local geology virtually guaranteed that travelers on the Oregon Trail would cross in this same spot, and the wheels of their passing gouged the soft sandstone as much as six feet in places.

Guernsey, Wyoming Oregon Trail ruts; image by Paul Hermans (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
Standing in ruts worn by thousands of emigrant wagons is an unforgettable experience. It brings home to you, in a way nothing else can, the sheer number of people who traveled West. What were their thoughts and feelings as their journeys took them through this section of the trail? What stories did they live out in their lives? Such questions can occupy a storyteller like me for a long time. The people who carved their mark in this place are all gone, but the pioneer spirit they bequeathed to us remains.

A state park preserves about a half mile of the Oregon Trail, which continues beyond the ruts we saw. It was tempting to linger, but with more stops planned for the day, we moved on. Walking in the Guernsey ruts made an impression on me that would later breathe life into my western historical fiction series.

I would call upon my experience of this and other locations on the trip while writing Montana Gold, a western historical romance series with the Oregon Trail always in the background. Hills of Nevermore, the first installment, is now available for Kindle preorder. Order Hills of Nevermore before the May 1st launch date for the best price.

Can a young widow hide her secret shame from the Irish circuit preacher bent on helping her survive? 
In an Idaho Territory boom town, America Liberty Reed overhears circuit preacher Shane Hayes try to persuade a hotel owner to close his saloon on Sunday. Shane lands face-down in the mud for his trouble, and there’s talk of shooting him. America intervenes and finds herself in an unexpectedly personal conversation with the blue-eyed preacher. Certain she has angered God in the past, she shies away from Shane.
Addie Martin, another widow, invites America to help in her cook tent in Virginia City, the new mining town. Even with Addie’s teenage son helping with America’s baby, life is hard. Shane urges America to depart for a more civilized location. Neither Shane’s persuasions nor road agents, murder, sickness, or vigilante violence can sway America. Loyalty and ambition hold her fast until dire circumstances force her to confront everything she believes about herself, Shane, and God.
Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, Hills of Nevermore explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west.

 Preorder Hills of Nevermore 

About Janalyn Voigt

My father instilled a love of literature in me at an early age by reading chapters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Robinson Crusoe and other classics. When I grew older, and he stopped reading bedtime stories, I put myself to sleep with tales I 'wrote' in my head. My sixth-grade teacher noticed my interest in storytelling and influenced me to become a writer.

I'm what is known as a multi-genre author, but I like to think of myself as a storyteller. The same elements appear in all my novels in proportions dictated by their genre: romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy.

Epic Fantasy: DawnSinger and Wayfarer are the first two novels in the epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven. The final books in the series, Sojourner and DawnKing, are under contract with my publisher.

Historical Fiction: Hills of Nevermore, first installment in Montana Gold, set during Montana's gold rush in the days of vigilante justice, will release May 1, 2017.

Romantic Suspense/Mystery: Deceptive Tide (Islands of Intrigue-San Juans) is set to launch in 2017. This title is romantic suspense, but I am also moving into writing mystery novels written in the classic style of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.

Sign up at to be notified when these titles release and for book extras and reader bonuses.