Monday, July 22, 2019

Sarah Morgan Dawson, A Southern Girl and Her Diary

Sarah Morgan

By Marilyn Turk

As a history buff and historical writer, I love to find personal accounts written by someone who lived in the past. Such was the case when I discovered the diary of Sarah Morgan on a trip back to my hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Sarah Morgan was born in New Orleans in 1842. When she was eight years old, her father, a prominent judge, moved to Baton Rouge, the Louisiana state capital.

Sarah's father, Judge Thomas Gibbes Morgan
Although Sarah had less than a year of formal school, her mother taught her well. Sarah learned to master the French language as well as English. She also read widely, familiarizing herself with the classics of the time.

Sarah had seven siblings – five brothers and two sisters. In 1861, when Sarah was nineteen,  her ‘favorite’ brother Henry was killed in a duel. Only months later, her father also died. Three of her brothers joined the Confederacy – two in the army and one in the navy. However, her oldest brother, a judge in New Orleans, swore allegiance to the Union and was able to keep his position during the war.

Sarah's family home in Baton Rouge, LA
Left at home were Sarah’s mother, her sister Miriam and her married sister Eliza (Lilly) with her five children. In 1862, the Union took control of Louisiana, and Federal troops invaded Baton Rouge, using the Baton Rouge state capitol building as a prison, then a garrison. 

Louisiana old state capitol,
which was new when Sarah lived in Baton Rouge

Sarah wrote in her diary of the desecration of the beautiful capitol building known as the “gray castle.” Sarah’s mother did her best to take care of the family, moving them back and forth between their small country home thirty miles away in Clinton, Louisiana, and Baton Rouge, as they tried to find a safe place.

The Carter Plantation in Linwood, LA.
In her journal, Sarah wrote that most of the Union officers were polite gentlemen, and she scorned her fellow citizens who treated them with disdain and disrespect. However, once their home was ransacked by Union soldiers, the family was forced to leave Baton Rouge for good and move in with Sarah’s sister-in-law whose home, the Carter plantation, was in Linwood, Louisiana. 

Sarah documented the hardships of refugee life, such as the scarcity of food and household items. At Linwood, she wrote about her isolation caused by the war, and the frequent visits by groups of Confederate soldiers camped at nearby Port Hudson.

Sarah’s visit to Linwood was extended after she was thrown from a horse in November 1862 and spent months incapacitated by a back injury. The federal assault on the Confederate stronghold at Port Hudson in July 1863, however, forced the Morgan women to make a final exodus to occupied New Orleans, where they joined the household of Sarah’s brother Judge Philip Hicky Morgan. While in his home, Sarah received news of the death of her brothers, Gibbes and George, in February 1864.
After the war, Sarah and her mother went to live with Sarah’s youngest brother James in South Carolina. To support herself, Sarah accepted an editorial position at the Charleston News and Courier, and throughout 1873, she wrote a series of editorials on the plight of young, single women in the postwar South.

Sarah's home in Charleston after the 1885 earthquake.  (only the front portico was damaged)
In 1874, Sarah married the newspaper’s editor, Englishman Francis Warrington Dawson. The couple had three children: Ethel in 1874, Warrington in 1878, and Philip Hicky in 1881. Philip died at six months of age. After her husband’s murder in 1889, Sarah again turned to her pen for survival, publishing a series of short stories and translations of French literary works. In 1899, she moved to Paris with her son Warrington, where she published Les Aventures de Jeannot Lapin, a French version of the Brer Rabbit stories, in 1903. She died in Paris on May 5, 1909 while Warrington was away on an African safari with Theodore Roosevelt.

Though Sarah originally asked that her six-volume diary be destroyed upon her death, her son Warrington convinced her to leave it to him in her will. In 1913, he arranged to have the first four volumes published as A Confederate Girl’s Diary.

Marilyn Turk’s roots are in the coastal South, raised in Louisiana, moved to Georgia, then retired to Florida. A “literary archaeologist,” she loves to discover stories hidden in history. She is the author of two World War II novels, The Gilded Curse and Shadowed by a Spy, and the four-book Coastal Lights Legacy series set in 1800s Florida—Rebel Light, Revealing Light, Redeeming Light, and Rekindled Light—featuring lighthouse settings. Marilyn’s novella, The Wrong Survivor, is in the Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides collection and Love’s Cookin’ at the Cowboy Café, in the Crinoline Cowboys collection. She also writes for Daily Guideposts Devotions.

She lives with her husband, 10-year-old grandson, and a 17-year-old cat. When not writing, Marilyn can be found playing tennis, gardening, walking, fishing, or kayaking. She and her husband have visited over 100 lighthouses so far, but the RV is ready to travel and go see more.
Marilyn is the director of the Blue Lake Christian Writers Retreat in Alabama, 
Website: @

Sunday, July 21, 2019

How the Invention of the Telegraph Changed the News, Part I

Pony Express or stagecoach? If you were a journalist choosing to receive news fit to print from the opposite end of the country, you had to wait around two weeks to a month to receive the needed information. Much of that changed after that day 1844 when Samuel Morse sent his message, “What hath God wrought?” through the telegraph he’d developed since the time of starting his work on it in the 1830s. 

First message sent by telegraph: "What hath God wrought?"
By Internet Archive Book Images - book page:, No restrictions,
The telegraph became a means of transmitting the news in a matter of minutes, compared to weeks. As long as a wire was connected between two stations it only took a key and a battery to transmit the series tapped dots and dashes known as Morse Code. Telegraphers became proficient and reading these messages by hearing. 

The news was then taken to reporters by messenger boys or the U.S. mail service several times a day. The new telegraph technology prompted the formation of a group of ten New York City newspapers into an organization called the Associated Press in 1848. Rather than compete for incoming messages they shared them. 

By John Schanlaub from Lafayette,IN, USA - Wallace Study-Telegraph, CC BY 2.0,
Over the next two decades, telegraphed lines were strung across the United States. In April of 1845, the first public telegraph office opened in Washington, D.C. and operated by the U.S. Postmaster General where people had to pay to have their messages sent. The 1848 presidential election when Zachary Taylor won on the Whig ticket was the first story distributed through the Associated.

During the Civil War, the government seized public telegraph equipment. They used secret codes, so it was very difficult for reporters to get a hold of fresh information to report on the war. Much of it had to be gathered by firsthand accounts sent by messenger. 

By Unknown - Scanned from paper copy, Public Domain,

After the war, telegraphic communication developed farther. The first permanent transatlantic cable was brought into service in 1865. And later in the century, Thomas Edison invented a four-plex system so that multiple messages could be sent over the same wire. Newspapers would never be the same as a new standard of news stories came into being with the spread of news over the telegraph across the country and from overseas.

Stay tuned for my article next month which will examine E.W. Scripps and how he affected communicating news stories to the masses.

Kathleen Rouser is the multi-published author of the 2017 Bookvana Award winner, Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan, and its sequel, Secrets and Wishes. She is a longtime member in good standing of American Christian Fiction Writers. Kathleen 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 thirty-some 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.

The Last Memory in The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection

Lighthouses have long been the symbol of salvation, warning sailors 
away from dangerous rocks and shallow waters.

Along the Great Lakes, America’s inland seas, lighthouses played a vital role in the growth of the nation. They shepherded settlers traveling by water to places that had no roads. These beacons of light required constant tending even in remote and often dangerous places. Brave men and women battled the elements and loneliness to keep the lights shining. Their sacrifice kept goods and immigrants moving. Seven romances set between 1883 and 1911 bring hope to these lonely keepers and love to weary hearts.

The Last Memory
 by Kathleen Rouser
1899—Mackinac Point Lighthouse
Natalie Brooks loses her past to amnesia, and Cal Waterson, the lighthouse keeper who rescues her, didn’t bargain on risking his heart—when her past might change everything.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Wild West Sayings We Use Today, Part 1

You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t love books and history. I suspect that, like me, you are also fascinated with the meaning and usage of words. I find the topic as heady as the aroma of a new book. Add in the element of history, and my imagination takes wings. The dishes in the sink can wait. I’m busy learning. 

I thought you would enjoy discovering common sayings from the Wild West era that remain in the vernacular today. There are so many of them that I have to divide this topic into several posts. Revisit this blog on the 20th of upcoming months, and you’ll find a new installment. It's going to take a while to make my way through my list. 
This article is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

Wild West Sayings We Use Today  

Part 1

Ace in the Hole: I’m familiar with this term, although I can’t recall ever using it. The phrase began with the poker practice of keeping an ace face-down until it can be played to win. The context has widened over time, with the poker connection lessening. Today, the phrase means holding an advantage in reserve until it is needed.

Historical Reference: “A writer for the June 1886 edition of Iowa’s The Humeston New Era described a poker game using the term,” according to

Example: When it came to beating speeding tickets, Amelia’s charm was her ace in the hole.

A Lick and a Promise: My mother used this term whenever she spritzed the house but didn’t have time to clean deeply. This idiom describes rushing through a task without doing a thorough job. The phrase originally referred to cleaning. An outdated definition of ‘lick’ was to clean rapidly. The ‘promise’ most likely spoke of the cleaner’s intent to do a better job at a later date. The idiom evolved to include other duties besides cleaning.

Historical Reference: The Phrase Finder identifies the term as colloquial (British) English and states that it first appeared in a March 1848 edition of the English newspaper, The Era.

Example: Cecilia gave her computer screen a lick and a promise by swiping it with a tissue.

Apple Pie Order: Is it just me, or does this expression make you hungry too?

This intriguing phrase describes something in perfect order. We know that it originated in Britain, but we really don’t understand how it came about. Some believe it is a corruption of the French 'nappes pliees' (neatly folded napkins), but other theories abound.

Historical Reference: The first known occurrence of this term was a note in Sir Thomas Pasley's ‘Private Sea Journals,’ an admiral and British naval hero. The entry appeared in the weekly plan for his ships’ crews: “And their Persons Clean and in apple-Pie order on Sundays.” The date was 1780, according to The Phrase Finder.

Example: No matter how much of a mess it became, Grandma’s kitchen always ended the day in apple-pie order.

At Sea: Since I’m writing the Montana Gold series, set far from the ocean, I

have trouble wrapping my mind around this as a Wild West term. However, it appears in several lists of idioms from the era. Collins English Dictionary shows an interesting graph indicating use of the term peaked in 1812 and remained high until after 1977, when it began to decline. Inception of the saying is British and dates to the 1700’s or possibly earlier. You may have already guessed its connection to the early days of nautical navigation, when ships could become hopelessly lost when they sailed beyond sight of land. As might be imagined, it defines a bewildered state of confusion.

Historical Reference: The earliest reference in literature occurred in 1893 by British adventurer Frederick C. Selous, according to The Idioms dictionary.

Example: I must confess to being at sea over what to do.

Save your bacon: Now, bacon isn’t hard to attach to the American West. It was, after all, a staple in pioneer cook pots. That is probably not what the phrase describes, however. In medieval times, ‘bacon’ meant ‘meat’ or flesh. When someone saves your bacon, they save your body. If you are not familiar with this term, you will no doubt have guessed that it describes rescue from a dire situation with life-threatening consequences. There are many suggestions for how this expression was birthed. One idea is that it derived from ‘Baec,’ a Old Dutch and Anglo Saxon word for ‘back.’
Historical Reference: Use of the term harkens to the 17th century. The Phrase Finder places it in Ireland's Momus Elenticus from 1654: "Some fellowes there were... To save their bacon penn'd many a smooth song."

Example: My father saved my bacon when he shot that cougar before it could jump on me.

Note from Janalyn: I hope you’ve enjoyed this window into the Wild West and other eras through the words that unite us with those who lived in an earlier time. Come back next month for another word adventure.

About Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt's unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and whimsy creates breathtaking fictional worlds for readers. Known for her vivid writing, this multi-faceted author writes in the western historical romance, medieval epic fantasy, and romantic suspense genres.

Janalyn is represented by Wordserve Literary Agency. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA. When she's not writing, she loves to garden and explore the great outdoors with her family.

Learn more about Janalyn Voigt and her books.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Phoenix of Museums: The State Capital Publishing Museum

The State Capital Publishing Museum, Guthrie, OKlahoma
Wikimedia Commons

By: Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez

Hello Friends!

Thank you for joining us once again as we delve into the history of this great state, we call home. Oklahoma.

Over the last couple of months, we have looked into much of the history of the land runs. This month, we look at a truly historic icon that is being reborn. The two of us met in a re-enactment group called the Guthrie Gunfighters, longer ago than I would like to admit. Most of our gunfights were either in the middle of the street or on the corner of 2nd and Harrison in Guthrie, Oklahoma. We did more shows there between the Capital Publishing Museum and the Blue Bell Saloon, than we can count, making beautiful backdrops to our trolley shootouts.

First founded in March of 1889, The “State Capital” was founded in Winfield Kansas by a Franklin Greer. Less than a month later, he moved his operations down to the newly formed town of Guthrie. On April 22nd 1889, the State Capital became the “first daily paper ever published in what is now Oklahoma”.

Originally, the paper was located in a different location, but moved to a rented space on the second floor at the current location in 1890. As the circulation of the paper grew, however, Greer rented more and more space, until finally in 1897, he purchased the entire building. Once the final top floor occupant moved out in 1900, Greer expanded his operations to the entire building, making 10,000 square feet available to the more than 100 employees the paper employed.

The Capital Publishing company remained in the building until the building burned down on an Easter Sunday in 1902. After the fire, however, Greer paid to have the building redesigned and rebuilt on the same site. With the help of subscriptions, the building was rebuilt in only 6 months, at a price tag of $50,000.

It house not only the print company, located in the basement, and was the official printing company for the territorial government, it also held a beautiful and ornate bank, and post office on the first floor. Greer branched out and sold a complete line of office, school and stationary supplies.

The designer of the new building was Belgian architect Joseph Pierre Foucart, whom had been instrumental in the design of numerous buildings in Guthrie to include, the Victor block, the Foucart building, the Gray Brothers Building, the Gaffney Building, the De Ford Building, and numerous others.

The State Capital, being the first publishing company in Oklahoma, quickly became the biggest publisher west of the Mississippi river.

In 1911, Greer sold the Oklahoma State Capital to the Guthrie Daily Leader, their primary competitor, and publishing under the name of the State Capital ceased. The building then started being used as a printing and book binding, under the name of the Co-Op Printing company. It remained for many years as the largest publisher in the State of Oklahoma for schools, churches and government.

Filing system on the first Floor, State Capital Museum
used with permission

In 1975, the Oklahoma State Historical Society purchased the building and opened the Capital Publishing Museum. They had courses where children could come in and print their own newspapers by traditional printing. The printing presses are still where they are and can be viewed by the large windows that went around the basement. The teller windows and bank vault is still there in pristine condition, and an entire wall is taken by an intricate boxed filing system. It even holds teacher's applications for teacher's jobs that the printing company printed. The museum remained in operation until it being closed in 2012 due to a failed boiler, the last straw in a long list.

Bank Teller stations on the first floor
used with permission

In 2017, a group by the name of the Guthrie Tomorrow Coalition purchased the building and are in the process of renovating it. They were open for Guthrie's Victorian Walk and welcomed hundreds of visitors for some Christmas cheer. They are gathering the funds to get the building back up to code, to reopen the museum, in all its former glory.

Part of Resume for Teacher, my own picture
Another part of resume for a Teacher,
my own picture

Did you know that resumes were
called warrants?
My own picture

If you would like to donate to their efforts, please feel free to contact them at: or

Thank you for joining us this month, as we explore parts of the rich history and culture of this great state. We hope you will join us next month as we look in to some of the other historic buildings in the culture and history rich city of Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Born and raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, Alanna Radle Rodriguez is the great-great granddaughter of one of the first pioneers to settle in Indian Territory. Judge was born and raised in Little Axe, Oklahoma, the son of A.F. Veterans. Judge and Alanna love the history of the state and relish in volunteering at the 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse in Edmond. Her second published story, part of a collaborative novella titled 18 Redbud Lane, is not available. Alanna and Judge live with her parents in the Edmond area. They are currently collaborating on a historical fiction series that takes place in pre-statehood Oklahoma.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Tunguska Event and a Giveaway

By Nancy J. Farrier

Many of us remember, or have seen, the devastation caused in 1982 when Mt. St. Helens erupted. In researching the Tunguska Event, I am reminded of those hillsides of downed trees and the barrenness of what was once a lush forest area. 
Tunguska Trajectory, by Z. Sekanina, Wikimedia Commons
On June 30th, 1908, in the Tunguska forest of Western Siberia, a mysterious
Map, Tunguska Event
Wikimedia Commons
event happened and scientists still debate the cause. Due to the remoteness of the area, there were few witnesses. The event happened so fast that even those few witnesses had confusing accounts. The commonality among them was fear.

One peasant, seated on his porch that morning, reported a bright light so hot he thought he would be burned or his shirt would be in flames. As he turned to see what caused the light, it disappeared and darkness fell. An explosion occurred with a wind so strong he was blown off the porch. 

Leonid Kulik
Wikimedia Commons
Because of the difficulty getting to the blast site, it would be almost two decades before the explosion would be researched. In 1927, Leonid Kulik, a Russian mineralogist read a newspaper account of the event and took a team to the Siberian forest along the Tunguska river. They found hundreds of trees flattened and the landscape changed. The devastation consisted of approximately 80 million trees and covered 820 square miles. There were bog holes and a lake that they don’t believe existed prior to the explosion.

There were many accounts recorded by people who supposedly witnessed the event but many proved false. Some said they touched the still-warm meteorite that hit the earth, a decidedly false statement. Kulik found no evidence of a meteor crater, even going so far as to drain a bog or sinkhole to see what was at the bottom. He only found a tree stump and no evidence of a meteor.

Map of impact zone, by Denys, Wikimedia Commons
So, what happened to cause this explosion which has been compared to the hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll? The theory at the forefront is a meteor, possibly an ice meteor, exploded in the atmosphere above the Siberian Tunguska forest. They estimate the meteor was from three to six miles up when the explosion occurred. There is no explanation for why this happened, only conjecture. 

Photo from Kulik's Expedition
Wikimedia Commons
In 1908, or even 1927, the scientists didn’t have the equipment to do testing that is available today. There have been many expeditions since then to study this event. In more recent studies, they found molecules in the downed trees that were made of nickel or iron, supporting the meteorite theory. The molecules were the same as those found in known meteorites. 

Scientists believe this to be the biggest event of this type even known, although the Tunguska Event is not an isolated occurance. The shock wave reached as far as Washington D. C.. For days afterward, the night sky had unusual colors that could be seen in Asia and Europe. Scientists believe this had to do with atmospheric particles of ice caused by the explosion.

Downed Trees at Tunguska, by CYD
Wikimedia Commons
Descriptions given to Kulik and to others mentioned more than one explosion, which could have been the main explosion and aftershocks. Women in one village ran through the streets, thinking it was the end of the world. Some reported seeing a light too bright to look at in the sky and then thumps, not like thunder but more like falling rocks. 

One man, who raised reindeer and was considered wealthy because of his large herd of reindeer, went with his brother to check his herd and his sheds where he kept his equipment. They found charred carcasses of the reindeer, the ones they found. Some they never located. The sheds and the contents were burned or melted, including utensils and equipment used for the reindeer.

It is hard to imagine such a devastating event happening today. There is always the possibility, although with the technology we have today I imagine there would be warning. Haven’t we all watched movies based on this possibility? 

What are your thoughts on the Tunguska Event? Have you ever heard of this phenomenon? 

It is July again and today is my birthday. I love giving gifts on my birthday. For every 10 people who comment on my blog post, I will give away a copy Bandolero, or one of my other books—winners choice, as long as the book is available. Don’t forget to leave your email address to be entered in the giveaway. 

Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:

She’s been rejected and betrayed. He sacrificed all to seek revenge.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


A cupola (kyo͞o-pə-lə) is the little dome or square-shaped addition that we see today atop a house, barn, or gazebo. It can also be a larger windowed area accessed from inside an Italianate-style home popular in the Victorian era.

None of this sounds very Western in the 1800s American-West sense of the word. But that’s exactly what my character Elizabeth Beaumont (An Unexpected Redemption) saw on her way home from the train station in 1881—the cupola rising romantically from the top of Maggie Snowfield’s boarding house.

When Elizabeth and her friend Sophie Price were growing up, they imagined what it would be like to secretly meet their sweethearts in a cupola, high above the town with a panoramic view and unparalleled privacy. At least they thought there would be a view. Young girls imagine all sorts of things, you know.

The term cupola comes from an Italian word derived from Latin for little tub. Italianate-style homes sprang up all over the United States during the mid- to late nineteenth century, other than in the South due to the Civil War and economic devastation of southern states.

American architects redesigned creations of British architects, who creatively recreated ideas from Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio of the 16th century. Clearly, imitation was the purist form of flattery.
Cupola ceiling in the Synagogue of Gyor, Hungary.
Emmanuel Dyan, Wikimedia.
The cupola is an integral part of that design and can be traced even farther back to 8th-century Islamic architecture on minarets, often with balconies. It later appeared in ancient Roman architecture. The dome-shaped styles were also found in India.

Cupolas were used to provide natural light and ventilation to space just below the roof, particularly in more humid regions. Those on barns often supported a weather vane from their highest point. The square-shaped style was sometimes referred to as “lantern.”
Old barn at Brookwood Farm, Canton, Massachusetts.
Jameslwoodward, Wikimedia Commons
But the larger, windowed cupola is what I envisioned atop Maggie Snowfield’s opulent home. Often, such a space is accessed via a stairway inside the house, as it was in Maggie’s. A very romantic hideaway, indeed, for a certain couple in my book.

The image below of John Muir’s home in Martinez, California, is close to what I envisioned as the Snowfield Boarding House in An Unexpected Redemption. Without the palm trees, of course. 
John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, California.
Victorian residence of scientist, philosopher and conservationist Muir
from 1890 till his death 1914. National Park Service photo.Wikimedia.
Historians tell us that Italianate architecture was favored for new Victorian construction because technology of the time made reproduction of cast-iron and metal decorations quite affordable. Not only homes employed the style, but also rooming houses, train stations, town halls, and libraries.

However, homes, barns, public buildings, and gazebos were not the only place cupolas made an appearance. Cabooses had them as well.

History lovers will know that trains once pulled a caboose with an “angel seat” from where workers had a clear view of the track and the rest of the train.
A former Milwaukee Road cupola caboose on display at the
National Railroad Museum in Green Bay. Photo by Sean Lamb, Wikimedia.
When my family and I first moved to Colorado, an open pasture bordering our property held a deserted train caboose left beneath a giant cottonwood tree. My son often went there to play and explore with a neighbor boy. We always supposed it had served as a line shack or cow camp, though it was not the typical shelter for cowboys.

To this day I regret not going out with my camera and photographing the old “dinosaur.” When the property owners got rid of the caboose, I felt as if a little bit of untold history went with it. Especially its angel-seat cupola.

An Unexpected Redemption

From the shelter of the cupola, Elizabeth could see the whole of Olin Springs. The railroad twisted away into the foothills, a silvery ribbon in the moon’s thin light, and to the north, the Big Dipper stood on its handle, spilling countless stars across the sky.

Tears spilled across her cheeks.

She hated Garrett Wilson. She hated him for stealing her heart when she wasn’t looking, for making her want to love again. For making her wonder what life could be like with a man like him.

But she hated him most for being right.

Davalynn Spencer can’t stop #lovingthecowboy. As the wife and mother of professional rodeo bullfighters, she writes romance for those who enjoy a Western tale with a rugged hero, both historical and contemporary. She holds the Will Rogers Gold Medallion for Inspirational Western Fiction, teaches writing workshops, and plays the keyboard on her church worship team. When she’s not writing, teaching, or playing, she’s wrangling Blue the Cowdog and mouse detectors Annie and Oakley. Learn more about Davalynn and her books at

May all that you read be uplifting.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Islands of the Mississippi River

While writing my latest novel, I discovered my story needed an island on the Mississippi River big enough for a group of river pirates to hide out.

Are there any islands on the Mississippi River large enough live on permanently? Turns out the answer is yes. (I’m guessing some of you already knew this, but color me clueless!) Some islands have a history of providing safety, security, and trading opportunities for travelers while others harbored danger to all who drew near. And like the pirates in my story and the mist along the river, over long periods of time, these land masses come and go at will … and sometimes with a little help from the Army Corp of Engineers.

Bloody Island appeared in 1798. Situated opposite St. Louis, MO, the densely wooded island became the preferred meeting spot for duelists since it was not under Missouri or Illinois jurisdiction. After a few years, the growth of the island threatened the harbor of St. Louis. In 1837, the U.S. Army Engineers established a system of dikes and dams to wash out the western channel and join the island to the Illinois shore.

Farmland on Grand Tower Island in Missouri
By Nyttend - Own work, Public Domain,

Davis Island, located 20 miles southwest of Vicksburg, MS consists of 30,000 acres. Formerly a peninsula bounded on three sides by the Mississippi River, a shift in the river cut it off from the mainland in 1867. Owned by Jefferson Davis’ brother, the Davis family built two sprawling plantations on the island. After the Civil War, former plantation overseer Ben Montgomery and other freedmen leased the island and continued to operate a successful farming operation on the island before losing the lease in 1876 when crops failed due to catastrophic floods. Today, Davis Island is owned by the Brierfield Hunting Club, with access only by water.

Rock Island, (Arsenal Island) comprises 946 acres and is located on the Mississippi River between the cities of Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois. The Rock Island Arsenal is home of First Army headquarters. The island was originally established as a government site in 1816, with the building of Fort Armstrong. It is now the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the United States. 

The House-In-the-Woods, Campbell's Island, Illinois

At the turn-of-the last century, Campbell’s Island in Illinois was bought by a street-car company with the intentions of turning it into an amusement park. There were many summer cottages and The House-In-the-Woods, built in 1904, offered dining and concerts. Today, Campbell’s Island is home to a suburban community with many of the island homes built on stilts to withstand seasonal flooding.

Grand Tower Island is known for its prime farming land. Kaskaskia Island, with a population of 14 at the last census has seen its numbers swell to SEVEN THOUSAND in the past. Pike Island was an internment camp for more than 1600 Dakotas in 1862.

Kaskaskia Church, Kaskaskia, Illinois
By Charles Houchin - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

And then there is Stack Island, located in north Mississippi, the island I based my fictional Cottonmouth Island on. Sometimes called the Crow’s Nest, Stack Island was notorious as a hideout for horse thieves, robbers, counterfeiters, and murderers. Samuel Mason and the Harpe brothers (Micaiah Jones from The Crossing at Cypress Creek is loosely modeled on the villainous Micajah Harpe) were among the vicious outlaws who frequented the Crow’s Nest.

Cave-In-Rock, Illinois
By Karl Bodmer - Maximilian, Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832–1834, Public Domain,

This is just a sampling of the twenty-four or so land masses on the Mississippi River that qualify as islands. I find the idea of island life on the Mississippi River fascinating! So, have you ever visited an island on the river? Or, be still my heart, lived on one?

Don't miss The Crossing at Cypress Creek, the third and final book in Pam Hillman's
The Natchez Trace Novel Series

CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of.