Monday, July 24, 2017

Tricks of the Trade: Unscrupulous Horse Traders of the Old West

We all know to be on our guard when buying a used car. But a clever Old West horse dealer could make even the slickest car dealer look like Honest Abe.
Those early cowboys in the market for a horse didn’t have to worry about odometer fraud or hidden accident damage, but there were plenty of other ways they could be duped.
Many an old mare was made to appear young again by a method called bishoping. The horse traders of yesteryear often filed the teeth of elderly horses and stained them with silver nitrate. This little trick could shave years off a horse’s age. A story in a 1910 newspaper reported that one man paid dearly for a seventeen-year-old horse thinking it was but seven.
Horses with sore muscles were temporarily cured by the gasoline trick. Gasoline was rubbed into a horse’s back and withers.  Supposedly, this allowed horses to move pain-free long enough to allow an unscrupulous horse trainer to pocket his money and leave town.
Another trick involved removing a shoe to disguise a lame horse.  The horse trader would convince a prospective buyer that once the shoe was replaced, the horse would be fine.
It wasn’t just old age and limps that could be concealed. Sponges shoved up a horse’s nostrils would hide the sound of labored breathing or a runny nose.  Irritants hidden in other parts of the body made a sickly horse hold its tail high and appear active.  This was called gingering.
Droopy ears could be easily fixed by running a thread under the forelock.
A Pennsylvania newspaper dated 1897 reported that when a prospective buyer voiced concern over a horse’s slow speed, the horse trader took him for a ride. Unbeknownst to the buyer, the horse trader had arranged to be arrested for “speeding” and willingly paid the five dollar fine.  The duped buyer was so impressed, he immediately bought the horse.
White horses were often made to look more attractive by the addition of black spots. This was accomplished by a combination of powdered lime and litharge. 
A handsome star was often added to a horse’s forehead by spreading warm pitch to a spot shaved in the shape of a star.  The pitch was left on for three days and then washed away with elixir of vitriol.  The hair grew back white.
One horse trader received a complaint that the horse he sold the day before must be blind as it kept walking into things. “Well, he ain’t blind,” the trader explained.  “He just don’t care.”
The Old West had its own version of the little old lady from Pasadena.  According to modern lore, the widow had been left a powerful car that she drove only to church. The “widow” of the Old West had a similar story to tell. 
Times may have changed, but the swindling trade lives on. 

Anyone ever come across an unscrupulous dealer or pushy salesman?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Fingerprints and a giveaway

Susan Page Davis here. A lot of my books involve fingerprinting, and I had the exciting opportunity to experience it myself a few days ago. Because it involved a travel permit, it was done through a branch of Homeland Security, and they have the latest technology. No ink, no paper cards to be filed. It’s all electronic nowadays. But how did the collection and comparison of fingerprints start?


Way back, earlier than 1000 B.C., fingerprints were used on clay tablets to seal business transactions in ancient Babylon.

The Chinese began using thumbprints on clay seals to “sign” documents in the third century B.C. During the T’ang Dynasty, 610 to 907 A.D., fingerprints were used on official documents.

In the 14th Century A.D., in Persia, many government documents had fingerprint impressions, and a government physician noted that no two fingerprints were exactly the same.

In 1686, an Italian professor of anatomy, Marcello Malpighi, used new technology—a microscope—to study fingerprints. He noted the common details of spirals, loops, and ridges. 

In 1823, a Prussian professor of anatomy, Johannes Purkinje, described nine fingerprint patterns. Still no mention was made of using fingerprints as a method of identification.

In 1858, Sir William Herschel, who was the chief magistrate of the British District of Jungipoor, India, began requiring a fingerprint and signature on civil contracts completed there with native Indians. He used this to make the people involved feel more bound to the contract, but over time he made the observation that no two were alike, and he said that fingerprints could be used for personal identification purposes. Herschel collected his own fingerprints over more than fifty years and noted that they did not change.

In 1877, The American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science reported that microscopist Thomas Taylor, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, proposed that finger and palm prints left on any object might be used to solve crimes.

Dr. Henry Faulds, a British surgeon supervising a hospital in Tokyo, published an article in a scientific journal in 1880. He discussed using printer’s ink as a method of collecting fingerprints for the purpose of personal identification. He developed a system of classifying them and sent his observations to Charles Darwin. Darwin, who was aging and ill, forwarded Dr. Faulds’s data to his cousin, Sir Francis Galton.

In 1882 fingerprints were first known to be used for identification in America by Gilbert Thompson. An employee of the U.S. Geological Survey in New Mexico, he used his own fingerprints on a document to guard against forgery.

Sir Francis Galton
Author Mark Twain was interested in fingerprinting, and he used it in two of his novel plots. In Life on the Mississippi (1883), a murderer was identified by the use of fingerprints. In his 1884 book, Pudd’nhead Wilson, Twain made it a major part of the plot, and fingerprint evidence was included in a courtroom scene.

Darwin’s cousin, Galton, published the first book on fingerprints in 1892. He was a British anthropologist, and he discussed in his book the uniqueness of fingerprints and the individual details they contain.

The first known collection of criminals’ fingerprints began in 1891 in Argentina, initiated by Juan Vucetich, a police official. The first known case in which a fingerprint was used in the solution took place in 1892.

In 1896, the International Association of Chiefs of Police established the National Bureau of Criminal Identification. Its purpose was exchanging arrest information between agencies.

In 1901, back to India: Sir Edward Henry, an inspector general of police in Bengal, developed the first system of classifying fingerprints. It was adopted as the official system in England and eventually spread over the world. He was later the Home Office Secretary and published “The Classification and Use of Fingerprints.” The Fingerprint Branch of New Scotland Yard was established, using Henry’s system.

In 1902, a Paris murder case was solved when police took a fingerprint from the crime scene and matched it to one already on file, belonging to a criminal previously arrested. In America at this time, the systematic use of fingerprints was beginning. In 1905, the U.S. Army began taking members’ fingerprints, and the Navy and Marine Corps began doing so within three years.

In 1910, Frederick Brayley published the first American textbook on fingerprints, "Arrangement of Finger Prints, Identification, and Their Uses."

Fingerprints were first accepted by United States courts as a reliable means of identification in 1911. Thomas Jennings was the first person to be convicted of murder in the U.S. based on fingerprint evidence.

Also in 1911, the first central storage place for fingerprints in North America was established in Ottawa, Canada, maintained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In 1924, Congress established the Identification Division of the F.B.I. By 1946, the F.B.I.’s fingerprint repository had more than 100 million fingerprint cards.

Fingerprint card of Rosa Parks. Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.
The first computer database of fingerprints was developed in 1980. It came to be known as the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). Today there are nearly 70 million records (about 700 million individual fingerprints) entered in the AFIS system. Computers can search millions of records in this system in minutes.

In 1996, fingerprinting of children became common in America as a guard against abduction. Parents were given the record card or a home fingerprint kit, maintaining their privacy unless the record was needed. More than 5 million Child ID Fingerprinting Kits had been distributed around the world by 2001.

In 1999, the F.B.I. phased out the use of cards and now uses the integrated AFIS system, based in Clarksburg, W.V., which contains computerized records for approximately 33 million criminals. Older paper cards are still maintained at another facility.

These are just a few of the significant events in the history of fingerprinting. The detectives in my Maine Justice series use fingerprints as one of many tools in solving their cases. If you would like to be entered in a drawing for your choice of books in this series, leave a comment below, including your contact information.

Susan Page Davis is the author of more than seventy novels and novellas in the mystery, romantic suspense, and historical romance genres. A Maine native, she now lives in western Kentucky. She is a winner of the Carol Award, Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, Will Rogers Medallion, and more. Visit her website at, where you can see all her books, sign up for her occasional newsletter, enter a month book drawing, and read a short story on her Romance page.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Nazi POWs in the U.S. and a giveaway!

By Marilyn Turk

Did you know that during World War II, the United States housed over 425,000 Nazi prisoners?

That fact was a surprise to me too, and I might not have known about it had I not come across the mention of a United States German POW camp in a recent novel I read. One reason I like to read historical novels is that I always learn something, so like any good researcher, I had to check out the history behind the story.

What I discovered was that soon after the US entered World War II, the United Kingdom approached the US about housing prisoners. The UK had a shortage of space for war captives and appealed to our country because we had much more space.
POWs board train in Boston

Soon the prisoners began arriving at the rate of 30,000 per month. Because the US observed rules of the 1929 Geneva Convention, these prisoners were treated very well, much better than their American counterparts were in Nazi-controlled camps.
Fort Sam Houston POW Camp, Texas

Forty-six states housed the 700 prisons which, aside from guard towers and barbed wire, resembled military training camps. According to the Convention, prisoners lived in quarters comparable to that of American soldiers. The three admirals and forty generals who were prisoners were sent to a camp in Mississippi where each had his own cottage and garden.

POWs working sugar beet farm, So. Dakota

Because so many American men were in the military fighting overseas, the German prisoners helped fill the employee void in the US by working in mills, factories and farms. They were paid for their labor in scrip they could use in the camp canteen, therefore helping to pay their own costs of imprisonment.
POW camp, Nebraska

Newspaper coverage and public knowledge of the camps was avoided until after the war, also complying with the rules of the Convention and to keep US citizens from fearing the large presence of the enemy. Citizens who lived near the camps were most aware of them, and also often the ones who benefited the most. 

Ironically, the government received letters from civilians complaining that the prisoners were treated too well. But in addition to abiding by the rules of the Convention, the government hoped that by treating the German prisoners well, the treatment would be reciprocated for American POWs.
POW soccer team, Mississippi

Life for these Germans was firm, but fair, and with a shortage of American guards, the prisoners were mostly supervised by German officers who maintained discipline, marched them to and from meals and prepared them for work.
Nazi POWs enjoy leisure time in camp

Sometimes the prisoners were allowed outside the camps without guards on the honor system. Many of the prisoners even found the living conditions in the camps to be better than they had as civilians back in Germany. The camps provided them with writing utensils, art supplies, woodworking utensils and musical instruments, encouraging hobbies as well as sports.

Nazi POW Hockey team

One former POW wrote, “We all were positively impressed by the USA…We all had been won over to friendly relations.” Several camps held social receptions with local girls and some of the Germans even met their future wives while prisoners.

The prisoners were well-fed, as noted by a former POW, “When I was captured, I weighed 128 pounds. After two years as an American POW, I weighed 185, I had gotten so fat.”

Did you know about the German POW camps in the United States?

The book that inspired this research was The One True Love of Alice Ann by Eva Marie Everson. Leave a comment (and your email) for a chance to win a copy!

Marilyn Turk loves to study history, especially that of lighthouses and the coast of the United States. She is the author of Rebel Light, a Civil War love story set on the coast of Florida, A Gilded Curse, an award-winning historical suspense novel set on Jekyll Island, Georgia, in 1942, and Lighthouse Devotions - 52 Inspiring Lighthouse Stories, based on her popular lighthouse blog. (@

Friday, July 21, 2017

From Wildcat to House Cat: How Cats Became Domesticated

Ancient Egyptian statue of Bastet
Photo by Gryffindor, 2008, [cc]
Is it nurture or nature? Cats can be affectionate or standoffish, but their adorable faces and playful antics win us over every time. Yes, I am a fan of cats, especially my very own gray dilute tabby domestic shorthair with mixed lineage!

Watching them pounce on a toy mouse or a shining beam of laser light, we can observe their hunting instincts. Their rolling shoulder gait is so much like that of their distant cousins in the wild as they stalk their "prey." What caused cats to come from the wild and into human dwellings?

Evidence of cats living with people span from 5,000 years ago in China to up to 9,000 years ago in the ancient Near East. A cat’s jawbone was found on the island of Cyprus, dating back 8,000 years. This suggested that cats dwelled with humans at the time. Archaeologists also found a cat buried with a human on Cyprus that dated back even further. 

In ancient China, leopard cats were domesticated to some degree. Some research suggests that domestic cats are all descended from felis sylvestris, the Middle Eastern so-called “cat of the woods,” or wildcat. More recent research of feline DNA showed that the modern house cat descended from two lineages. One was the African wildcat. The theory is that as humans began to progress in the field of agriculture (no pun intended) and stored grain, wild cats started to enter human communities to eat the mice and other rodents that invaded the granaries. Consequently, people were happy with the population control of those pesky rodents and they welcomed the feline predators. 
African Wildcat by Sonelle, 2003, [cc]
As is commonly known, cats were revered in Egypt. Their goddess, Bastet, had the head of a feline. Anyone who killed a cat in ancient Egypt could face execution. Cats were often mummified just as humans were. Wealthy families prided themselves on the colorings of their cats and sometimes exhibited them in a similar fashion to the cat shows of today. Other ancient cultures also respected them though not to such a high degree.

Mummified Cat, 2000-100 B.C., from Welcome Images, 2014 [cc]
How did they go from predator to pet? Clues came to light as scientists bred foxes to be friendly on a Russian fur farm in the 1950s. The resulting foxes, after a few generations, took on dog-like characteristics. Their ears grew floppier and their tails grew curlier. They grew affectionate to humans. Scientists have concluded that domesticated animals have changes in their brains that make them more likely to live peaceably with humans.
Cats in Chinese Art, Mao,  12th Century {PD}
Similarly, cats that gravitated toward human settlements continued to breed with other cats who were less shy to human company and more motivated by reward. Eventually the solitary feline was happy to curl up in the lap of their human caretaker. This may have occurred over just a few generations. 

Cat playing from Loliloli, 2008, {PD}
The skeleton and DNA of the domestic cat show little difference compared to their wild counterparts. The one unique trait which emerged were the spots and stripes of the tabby. These didn’t appear until the Middle Ages. During the 1700s the tabby markings became more common and were identified with domestic cats. Then in the 1800s, cat enthusiasts began choosing cats for their particular characteristics such as coat markings, and produced fancy breeds.

So what is the true story of the domestication of cats? As lovable felines do today, they chose the humans they wanted to live with and are pleased to do so for as long as they so wish. The DNA studies concluded that cats basically domesticated themselves. 

Lilybits, my favorite feline.
Kathleen Rouser is the author of Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan, and the novella, The Pocket Watch. She is a longtime member of American Christian Fiction Writers. 

Kathleen has loved making up stories since she was a little girl and wanted to be a writer before she could even read. She longs to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She lives in Michigan with her hero and husband of 35 years, and the sassy tail-less cat who found a home in their empty nest. Connect with Kathleen on her website at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter @KathleenRouser.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Inside a Sod House

This post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

Traveling the Oregon Trail Backwards, a Road Trip Adventure, Part 8

Our small family group had the day before us and miles passing beneath our tires. Farmlands stretched on either hand, a fitting approach to our destination. A red barn with white letters spelling out “Sod House Museum” beckoned to us from behind a gas station. We pulled into the parking lot and went inside. Admission was free. With the prospect of seeing an accurate replica of a soddy, that most iconic of pioneer homes, I didn’t pay much attention to the pictures and memorabilia in the small museum.

Sod House Museum in Gothenburg, Nebraska, boasts the world's largest plough. Image by Ammodramus (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Outside the barn a wooden windmill lifted six sets of fan blades against the sky. Beneath it a wagon with four wooden bows waited for occupants who would ride in it no more.  A path led past a grazing buffalo. An Indian on horseback watched us. It took a moment to realize both were crafted of barbed wire. While I usually dislike anything that smacks of tourism, these life-sized figures looked natural in the grassy setting.

The sod house squatted with its back to a stand of trees. At first sight, it seemed like something a hobbit might live in. Built from rectangular bricks cut from the prairie sod, it has retained its integrity long after many wooden frame dwellings have collapsed. Prairie grass has thicker and tougher roots than the grasses we use in modern landscaping, which made it durable, although sometimes rains caused damage. The settlers often cut the bricks to measure 2'×1'×6" (60×30×15 cm). If you’ve ever moved fresh-cut sod, you know that size is heavy to lift. Two wooden windows sat below lintels on either side of a doorway. The front door stood open, revealing the rustic interior. Just inside the doorway, the day’s heat eased a little. One of the benefits of a sod home was its ability to regulate temperatures. However, pioneers mainly built soddies to compensate for a lack of timber.

As you'll recall, I lost the images from this trip, and I couldn't find one of the sod house that I could post to this site. However, I've pinned several images shared by others to my Wild West board on Pinterest.

The interior walls were stuccoed, lending it a more civilized appearance. A pot-bellied stove backed against one wall. A wooden bench covered in a blue gingham tablecloth flanked it. Rough shelves held pots and pans, and a rocking chair sat in one corner. A wooden trunk stood beneath a window, and a rifle hung on pegs above it, ready for any emergency. A rope bed covered in a bright quilt rested in one corner. The place seemed to small for all the living it would have to contain.

I left the Sod House Museum with a better appreciation for the hardihood of western pioneers. Many of the images from the trip have blended together and become fuzzy at the edges, but visiting the sod house remains sharp in my memory. I didn’t know it at the time, but this experience would later color my writing of the Montana Gold books.

Note from Janalyn on this series:

I seem to approach everything backwards, and traveling the Oregon was no exception. A few years ago I set off from Washington state to a family reunion in Missouri, following the route of the Oregon Trail backwards. The trip sparked an idea for an Oregon Trail series which finally came to fruition with the release this spring of Hills of Nevermore (Montana Gold 1). My historical romance series is set in Montana during its gold rush, and each of the heroines travels part of the Oregon Trail.

Hills of Nevermore (Montana Gold, book 1)

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.

Read the first two chapters free.

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. Visit