Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Other Woman in the Race around the World

Elizabeth Bisland

By Marilyn Turk

You’ve probably read about Nellie Bly, the famous journalist who went around in the world in 72 days to beat the fictional Phileas Fogg of Jules Verne’s book, Around the World in Eighty Days.

What you might not know is that the trip was a race between Nelly Bly who worked for The World, the most widely-read newspaper of its time, and Elizabeth Bisland, the literary editor of The Cosmopolitan magazine.

Elizabeth was born on Fairfax Plantation in Louisiana in 1861. Life on the family plantation was difficult after the Civil War, so the family moved to Natchez, Louisiana when she was twelve years old.  She began writing as a teenager, sending poems to the New Orleans Times Democrat under the pen name of B.L.R. Dane. When her family and the paper discovered her identity, she was paid for her work, eventually moving to New Orleans to work for the paper.

Around 1889, she moved to New York City where she worked for a variety of newspapers and magazines. When the publisher of The Cosmopolitan read about Nellie Bly’s future trip around the world, he decided to make it a race and send his literary editor, Elizabeth Bisland, in the opposite direction to do the same, hoping she would beat Bly’s time. At first, she refused, because she did not want the attention, but finally she gave in. So on the same day, November 14, 1889, both women departed New York, but Bly went east and Bisland went west. 

The World excited its readers by posting sensational accounts of Bly’s journey while ignoring Bisland’s journey. At the same time, The Cosmopolitan’s coverage was less frequent, it being a monthly magazine.

Bisland was twenty-eight years old, tall and elegant, gracious and intelligent, and an avid reader of literary works. Although a beautiful woman, she once wrote, “After the period of sex-attraction has passed, women have no power in America.” She was a hard-working woman, often working eighteen hours a day, and was proud of the fact that she arrived in New York City with only fifty dollars but had earned thousands by her own writing.

Elizabeth Bisland wrote seven articles for The Cosmopolitan about her race around the world. In 1890 these articles were published by Harper & Brothers as a book entitled In Seven Stages: A Flying Trip Around the World. Near the end of the trip, cold, sleepless and hungry, Bisland hurried by train and ferry through France, England, Wales, and Ireland to catch the steamship that was her last chance to beat Bly, only to cross a storm-tossed North Atlantic.
In the end, Elizabeth Bisland succeeded in beating Phileas Fogg’s eighty-day mark, completing the trip in seventy-six days, which would have been the fastest trip ever made around the world, except that Nellie Bly had arrived four days earlier.
She arrived home—as she had feared—famous, amazed to discover people had placed wagers on who would win. She was even more amazed by the number of strangers who sent cards and messages, who simply wanted to see her, as if she were an exotic animal.
Unlike Nellie Bly, who upon her return to New York immediately set out on a forty-city lecture tour, Bisland avoided publicity. She gave no lectures, endorsed no products, and did not comment publicly on the trip. Instead, at the very height of her popularity, Bisland left the United States and sailed for Great Britain, where she lived the following year surrounded by London’s literary society.
When she returned to New York, she married corporate attorney Charles Wetmore, and together the two designed and built an estate on Long Island they named Applegarth. At Applegarth, she became a highly productive writer of several books and essays, writing until her death. In one of her final collections of essays, she wrote “Toward Sunset” in which she observed, “That old age may be agreeable to others and tolerable to itself, no other equipment is so necessary as a vigorous sense of humour.” But old age itself, she was quick to point out, “is not an amusing episode.”

Elizabeth Bisland died of pneumonia on January 6, 1929, at the age of sixty-seven. Coincidentally, she was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, New York, the same cemetery where Nelly Bly was buried, who also died of pneumonia in 1922.
Elizabeth Bisland in later years

Marilyn Turk’s roots are in the coastal South, raised in Louisiana, moved to Georgia, then retired to Florida. Calling herself 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 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. She also writes for the Daily Guideposts Devotions book.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Something to Digest: The Strange Partnership of William Beaumont and Alexis and St. Martin

William Beaumont’s medical training consisted of an apprenticeship of observation more than book learning. The son of a Connecticut farmer and Revolutionary War veteran, Beaumont left home at the age of 22 to embark on his training and career. After receiving a medical license in Vermont, he eventually signed up to be a surgeon’s mate in the United States Army. He served during the War of 1812 before he went into private practice for a few years before returning to the military and being assigned to Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island in 1821.

William Beaumont, by Tom Jones - NYPL Digital Gallery, Public Domain,
In 1822, French-Canadian voyageur, Alexis St. Martin, was visiting the post of the American Fur Trading Company on the island. He was accidentally shot at close range by a shot gun. The pellets penetrated his abdomen doing damage to his stomach and his ribs. Beaumont was summoned to treat him, though St. Martin wasn’t expected to survive. Still, the surgeon committed to the young man’s care, taking time to followthrough and check on him. 

St. Martin did survive, but the wound didn’t close. Instead, the open outer skin of the wound adhered to the layer underneath creating a permanent opening to the stomach called a gastric fistula. When he ate, food fell right through the hole in his side unless he kept a compress over it. He could no longer work for the fur trading company and the local authorities wanted to send him back to the Quebec area. Dr. Beaumont feared he wasn’t strong enough for the trip and offered to take his patient in. He hired St. Martin to be his servant.

By Frances Anne Hopkins - [dead link], Public Domain,
In 1825 St. Martin agreed to allow Beaumont access to perform experiments on his open stomach. Pieces of food on a silk string were dipped into the gastric juices while the doctor observed how he digested the food. St. Martin went with Dr. Beaumont to where he was stationed at Niagara Falls and Washington, D.C. St. Martin eventually married and had several children. When he received word that one had passed away, in 1831, St. Martine wanted to return to Canada to be with his family. He returned with his family to Beaumont where he was stationed in Wisconsin. 

A young Alexis St. Martin By Jesse Shire Myer - A book, Life and Letters of Dr. William Beaumont ..., Public Domain,

Beaumont wanted to bring St. Martin with him to St. Louis, but he was determined to return to Canada with his family. The research finally ended in 1833, when they parted ways.

Beaumont’s research culminated in a 280-page book covering the physiology of digestion, even the effect that mental disturbances have on gastric juices! It was truly groundbreaking research at the time. 

Fort Mackinac
By Drdpw - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Though the doctor sent letters to St. Martin to try and convince him to return for more research, the former fur trader wouldn’t consent unless he could bring his whole family with him and receive an agreeable amount of compensation. Beaumont lived the rest of his life out in St. Louis in private practice as a doctor of some renown. He died at the age of 68 in 1853 from a closed head injury after slipping on icy steps. 

Elderly Alexis St. Martin with open wound.
By Jesse Shire Myer - A book, Life and Letters of Dr. William Beaumont ..., Public Domain,

While St. Martin was occasionally taken to medical facilities for show, St. Martin lived, mostly in poverty, until 1880 when he died. His family made sure that his body had begun decomposing and buried him in a secret grave to keep curious researchers from performing illegal autopsies on his corpse.

Dr. William Beaumont and Alexis St. Martin made an interesting pair, dependent on one another for a time. While they may not have developed a close friendship due to class and personality differences, their strange partnership opened a window on human digestion to the medical community as never done before.

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.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Godey's Lady's Book: an Important Historical Record

Fashion plate from Godey’s Lady’s Book (1840)

Welcome to my new obsession! This is Janalyn Voigt, author of the Montana Gold western historical romance series. While researching The Forever Sky, the fourth Montana Gold novel, I stumbled across a valuable original resource. How I missed this record while researching before this, I’ll never know. It was extremely popular in its day.

Godey's Lady's Book: an Important Historical Record

Godey’s Lady’s Book (also known as Godey's Magazine and Lady's Book), was established in 1836 when Louis Godey merged the Boston Ladies’ Magazine with the Philadelphia periodical, Lady’s Book. Godey employed Sarah Josepha Buell Hale as editor of the newly-minted magazine. Under her guidance, the number of subscriber ranks swelled to 150,000 by 1860, just prior to the Civil War.
Fashion Plate from Godey's Lady's Book (1861)
Godey felt that the magazine should strike a neutral pose during the War Between the States (as the conflict was known back then). However, Hale was a devoted nationalist and used the magazine to subtly sue for unity. She used editorials, letters to the editor, fiction, and poetry to support her views. Her efforts did alienate some readers, and the periodical lost about a third of its subscribers. The publication recovered and continued as an influential voice in America until 1878. By then both Godey and Hale had passed away, and Godey’s Lady’s Book was absorbed into Puritan magazine.
Nightcap, Godey’s Lady’s Book (1840) 


Godey’s Lady’s Book is an important historical and cultural record it is possible to view today. That makes it exciting for a historical fiction author like myself. I also enjoy reading archived issues on a personal level. I enjoy learning about history and love cooking historical recipes, for the way they connect me to the past.

Godey’s Lady’s Book provided entertainment, information, and education to American women. One of its biggest draws was the use of hand-colored fashion plates that brought American women news of the latest apparel. Detailed descriptions and patterns accompanied the plates. The magazine also contained historical biographies and articles on a wide range of subjects of interest to women of the day. Topics included dance, riding, hygiene, hair tutorials, remedies, household tips, recipes, house plans and many others. Every issue contained two pages of sheet music arranged for the pianoforte. At a time when people socialized by gathering to enjoy musical evenings, this was important. Besides fashion plates, the periodical boasted other beautiful illustrations.

Illustration; Godey's Lady's Book (1861)
The periodical became an important literary magazine with celebrated contributors like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Nathanial Hawthorne. I noticed during my perusal that poetry, often shunned today, took a primary place in the pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book. It warmed my heart as a novelist to see fiction given pride of place, second only to the demands of fashion.

How the times have changed! Gone are the days when ladies spent time together in the parlor sipping tea while reading poems and stories to one another. But we, dear reader, can recapture the gentle art of living through the pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

About Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt fell in love with literature at an early age when her father read chapters from classics as bedtime stories. When Janalyn grew older, she put herself to sleep with tales "written" in her head. Today Janalyn is a storyteller who writes in several genres. Romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy appear in all her novels in proportions dictated by their genre. Janalyn Voigt is represented by Wordserve Literary. 

Learn more about Janalyn, read the first chapters of her books, subscribe to her e-letter, and join her reader clubs at

About Montana Gold

Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, the Montana gold series explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west.

Learn More>>

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Oklahoma Land Runs: Myth or Myster? Pt 1

Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889
Public Domain

By Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez

Thank you for joining us this month as we look into the history of the Oklahoma Land Runs.

For those of us that live in the great state of Oklahoma, the terms 89er, Boomer, Sooner, or Land Run, is commonplace. Recently, however, it recently came to our attention, that even locally, most didn't learn the whole truth in school.

n honor of the 130th anniversary of the first land run, and after much discussion, we decided to cover the different Land Runs. Wait. There was more than one?

For those of you whom are familiar with us, we spend many of our Saturdays doing tours at a local museum, Edmond's 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse Museum. Sometimes, we go deeper into the history of the state than others, depending on the interest level of the visitors at the museum. It has taken quite the amount of independent study and research.

“Why would someone be interested in the history of the state up to sixty years before the settling of a town?” one might ask. Why indeed? Without going into the history , we can't describe the reasons behind such an interest and unique method to allocate the lands, such as the land runs.

Thanks to a slight navigation error in surveys of the Louisiana Purchase, the entirety of the lands that later became the state of Oklahoma, were identified as being "unsuitable for white settlement." This, of course, led to the reassignment of the lands and the creation of the reservations for the Native Americans during the Indian Removal Act of the 1830’s. If a Native American was found outside of their assigned reservation, they could be executed.

There were a series of forts that existed throughout the entire territory, termed the “Border Forts” that helped keep the peace between the tribes, and the white settlers in the territories around the Indian Territory. The border forts helped keep the number of slave raids down to a minimum.

During the Mexican War (1846-1848), troops were moving through the different reservations on their way to Texas, and beyond. Even today, the system of roads created between the different forts form a major part of the backbone of the highway system, in Eastern Oklahoma.

During the conflict commonly called the Civil War, or the War Between the States, many of the tribes sided with the Confederate States of America (the South).

As the conflict raged on, many troops moving through the different areas desired settling in the lands that were set aside as reservation lands.

Post War Western Indian Territory saw an increase in raiding of the Apache and Comanche tribes, requiring the intervention of the U.S. Cavalry (in the Red-River War). This intervention created a new series of forts in the territory, many of which still exist today.

In 1887, there was a dissolution of the Reservations that were set aside for each of the tribes. The corruption endemic with each of the “Indian Agencies” that were managing each of the reservations led to numerous problems.

It was the extension of the railroad through the unassigned lands in the late 1880’s that sealed the fate of the reservations, however, and made White Settlement of the Indian Territory an inevitability.

There were several groups that had been pushing for the allowance of white settlers in the Unassigned Territory for years, the most notable of which was David Payne’s Boomers. After several skirmishes with the U.S. Cavalry, leading to the removal of what were considered squatters, the US government gave in.

Many people associate the term Land Run with just the first in the series of Land Runs, or Land Rushes.

Outline Map of the lands, known asOklahoma Indian Territory
Used with permission from the Oklahoma Historical Museum

The Great Land Run, also called “Harrison’s Horse Race”, was the opening of the “Unassigned Territory” located in the center part of what is now the state of Oklahoma. The bill was signed into being in January of 1889 and the Land Run took place on April 22nd.

Each of the plots had a marker stone that indicated the plot, the amount of land, and the exact location as mapped by the surveyors. These plots varied in size. They ranged from an acre (in-town plots) up to a quarter plot (160 acres, or a quarter square mile in the rural areas).

Though it is not known the exact number of people that took part in the first Land Run, there are estimates of it being anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 prospective settlers.

There were a number of towns that formed overnight. Towns such as Norman, Moore, Oklahoma Station (later called Oklahoma City), Guthrie, Stillwater, and Summit (later called Edmond). Many of these towns were formed along the railroad itself, allowing for the import of badly needed building materials and supplies. Why didn't they just go out and cut trees down? The area where the '89 Land Run took place was tall-prairie grassland. There weren't any trees. Every piece of lumber came in on the railroad.

Edmond, I.T., depot before April 22, 1889
Used with permission from the Oklahoma Historical Society
However, not many people were able to get the “Town plots” that were so coveted. Settlers that were able to, made the most of their allotments. "Tent cities" sprang up overnight.

Now this is not to say that there weren’t conflicts over land ownership. In fact, many of the conflicts that made it to arbitration lasted for years. One of the first families in Oklahoma was the Harn family. In 1891, President Harrison assigned William Harn to be a special commissioner to resolve land ownership disputes.

Many of those disputes lasted long enough that when one side’s claim was found valid, both parties had already moved on to other things. Eventually, Commissioner Harn ended up taking many of those plots of land for himself. You can visit the Harn Homestead Museum in central Oklahoma.

All together, there were seven Land Runs in Oklahoma. This article covers just the history leading up to and part of the information on the first of the Land Runs.

Please join us next month as we cover more information on the additional Land Runs that this state experienced as well.

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 first published story, part of a collaborative novella titled Legacy Letters, came out September 2016. 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.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Nisei - America's 442nd WWII Battalion

By Nancy J. Farrier

Quote from the Memorial Wall at the
Japanese American Museum Los Angeles

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, fear consumed much of the United States population. Their fear turned to animosity against all Japanese, even the Nisei, native born Japanese who were American citizens. In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, signed an executive order to send all Japanese residing in the United States to internment camps. 

100th Battalion
Many of the young Nisei wanted to fight for their country in the war. In 1942, the U.S. government decided to remove all soldiers of Japanese ancestry from the armed forces. In Hawaii, the dismissed members of the U.S. Army petitioned the government to be allowed to fight for the United States. Their petition was approved and they were brought to the mainland for training.

This group of young men were so impressive, the government reversed their decision and in February of 1943 they allowed a battalion to be formed made up of Japanese Americans. Questionnaires were sent to the internment camps to determine the men’s loyalty. Some of the questions were so offensive they were left blank. The suggestion that offended most was that these young men had a prior loyalty to the Japanese emperor when the United States was their native country. Their parents had chosen to come to the United States and they had been born here.

The government asked for volunteers from both the mainland and from Hawaii.
The response from Hawaii was overwhelming. Three thousand volunteers came from Hawaii and the rest from the mainland. These men made up the 100thBattalion and the 442ndInfantry Regimental Combat Team consisted of some men from Hawaii but most of them were from the internment camps in the Continental USA. 

After training, the 442ndwent into battle for the first time in June 1944. They fought against overwhelming odds as did all the soldiers in the battle. Later, the Presidential Unit Citation Review said this of the Nisei soldiers of the 100thBattalion, “The fortitude and intrepidity displayed by the officers and men of the 100thInfantry Battalion reflects the finest traditions of the United States Army.”

Awards Ceremony for 442nd after rescue of Lost Battalion.
442nd suffered 800 casualties to rescue the 141st
The 442ndBattalion were also known for their bravery and willingness to face difficult odds. In October 1944 they were tasked with the rescue of a Unit from Texas, the 1stBattalion of the 141stInfantry, called the “Alamo Regiment” because the men hailed from Texas. The Texans were surrounded and had no way out. The 442ndwent to their aid and rescued them. When the battle ended only 17 were left alive in the “Alamo Regiment” and the Nisei paid for a high price in the loss of men for the Texan’s rescue.

The men of the 442nd, who had families in the internment or concentration
camps in America, were among the first to enter Dachau to liberate the detainees there. The sight of so much horror and misery followed them the rest of their lives.

By the end of WWII, the 442ndwas the most decorated unit for its size in U.S. Military history. They fought for two years in the war and received more than 18.000 awards. Some of those were 9.486 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars and 21 Medals of Honor. President Truman spoke highly of their bravery at home and abroad. In 1951, the Nisei Regiment was the subject of a film titled, Go For Broke, which was the 442nd’s official slogan. 

"Go For Broke" patch
Many of the pictures in my blog today were taken at the Japanese American Museum in Los Angeles. The information gathered there is exceptional. If you ever get the chance to visit, please do so. They have a beautiful memorial monument there with the names of the Nisei soldiers on one side and various quotes on the other side.

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:

Friday, May 17, 2019

High Country Parks and a Giveaway!


When I first started reading historical “cowboy” books, I noticed that parks were frequently mentioned. In the Western ranching context, it was easy to see that these parks were not grassy city blocks set aside for recreation, but valuable cow country—high mountain rangeland conducive to raising cattle, particularly in Colorado.
Pushing cow-calf pairs across a small high-country park in
south-central Colorado, looking over the ears of the author's horse 
from Badger Creek Ranch.
The term park is a “Colorado-centric idiom meaning upland valley,” says Shannon Davis in an article on the Estes Park, Colorado, web site. The mountain town of Estes Park is one of several with park in its name due to its meadow-like surroundings. Established in 1859, the town was named by Rocky Mountain News co-founder and editor, William N. Byers, for one of its first non-native residents, Joel Estes from Kentucky. It is not to be confused with the nearby Rocky Mountain National Park – a different kind of park, four of which are also found in the state.

The Colorado connection fed my curiosity. Besides Estes Park, we have Winter Park and Woodland Park. There is even a Park County. In my neck of the woods, we’ve got a small unincorporated community known as Parkdale, as well as High Park Road, Lincoln Park, and Garden Park. Veteran cowboy author and area rancher Paul Huntley also mentions Webster Park and Gribble Park in his hand-drawn maps and colorful first-person publications from the 1970s.
A smaller park near Colorado's Royal Gorge Bridge and Canon City,
similar to those mentioned by cowboy author, Paul Huntley.
Photo by author.
The word “park” has its origins in Medieval Latin, as a well as Old High German, and the Old English word for paddock. But the term landed in North America in the 1840s when trappers and explorers labeled three high-mountain valleys or parks west of the Front Range and one, San Luis Park or Valley, west of the Sangre de Cristo Range.
Near Walden in Colorado's North Park backed by the Park Range mountains.
Image from Wikimedia Commons. 
There are countless small high-country parks in Colorado, but the three primary inter-mountain valleys are North Park (8,800 ft.) that lies at the headwaters of the North Platte River and stretches into Wyoming; Middle Park (8,000 ft.) that cradles the narrow basin of the Colorado River; and South Park (9,000 – 10,000 ft), the largest of the three flat basins and found at the headwaters of the South Platte River.
Colorado's South Park looking northeast to the Front Range.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
In simple cowboy-speak, “park” is where you want to graze your cattle. Today, the Colorado parks are known for producing a coveted, short-season crop of Timothy hay. Kentucky thoroughbred horse farms pay dearly for good mountain grass hay from the Rocky Mountain parks.


Enter for a chance to win an e-book copy of An Unexpected Redemption by signing up for my quarterly author update here: and sharing today’s post on one of your social media accounts. Comment below to let me know where you shared and if you’re already one of my subscribers. The winner’s name will be drawn the evening of May 18, 2019 at 8 p.m.

Memories spread through her like the gas light, complete with the sweet tinge of sage and pine. Of riding the high parks with Cade and their pa and ending the day with whatever Deacon could fit in a skillet.…Betsy felt free. As free as the mares in late spring when Cade and their pa turned the band out on the high parks. ~An Unexpected Redemption

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Versatility of Goats

So, let’s talk goats. I have a friend who raises goats, and she makes all kinds of goat cheeses, goat’s milk ice cream (it’s SO good!), soaps, and lotions. The heroine of my latest novel set in the 1790s Mississippi territory has a small herd of goats, so I decided to research the various by-products that can be produced from goats.

Obviously, milk is the first thing that comes to mind. We’re used to pasteurized milk these days, but back in the 18th century, there were a lot fewer steps from milking to table. Milk the goat (or cow), strain the milk through a cheesecloth and drink. That was pretty much the entire process. They could keep milk cool in a crock in a root cellar or in a creek to make it last a bit longer, but if they weren’t going to drink it all before it spoiled, they made cheese, butter, and soap.

While goat’s milk cheese can be quite strong for some, I imagine our ancestors were quite used to strong cheese. Check out this cool video from The Townsend’s:  

I’d venture to say that a family with goats would make goat’s milk soap. I was surprised to find that making soap doesn’t require some magic ingredient or special containers. All you need is animal fat/grease—or vegetable/plant oil, water and ashes. And women in the past would have learned at an early age how to save their ashes and leach them to get lye. 

The primary ingredient is the potash or pearl ash from ashes. Pure potash can be achieved by leaching wood ashes. To do this under primitive conditions, take a small container with a small hole or holes punched through the bottom. Place a one-inch layer of gravel or sand in the bottom of the container, and a one-inch layer of sand on top of the gravel. The gravel and sand act as filters.

Fill the container with ashes from a cooled campfire. Place another container under the first container to catch the runoff and slowly pour about a gallon of water over the ashes allowing a brownish-gray water (the lye) to exit through the bottom into the second container.

Pour slowly. If the ashes start to “swim”, you are pouring the water too fast. During this process, if the lye coming out starts to lose its color, more ash can be added. Next, boil the lye water until more than half of the water has evaporated. The mixture may foam, and the resulting solution is potash or lye. Add lard, grease or animal fat to the boiling mixture and continue cooking for about 30 minutes.

When the desired consistency is reached, place the mixture into molds. The shape doesn’t matter: a wooden mold carved from a tree limb, a small coconut shell, seashells, anything will do. Let the mixture dry for about two days, then remove from the mold.

Can you think of a scent my 18th century characters would have added to their soap to give it a pleasing aroma? Wild honeysuckle is rampant in Mississippi and wild roses would be heavenly. In addition, there are over 50 different species of native orchids in Mississippi. I can imagine how wonderful that would smell. Do you enjoy homemade soaps? If so, what’s your favorite scent? What native flowers or other plants from your state would make a lovely scented soap?

These soaps on the left are made by my friends and they are lavender. Not only are they gorgeous, they smell divine!

The Crossing at Cypress Creek, Coming June 2019

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