Archive for the ‘Print Books’ Category

FROM TARPAPER TO MANSIONS

September 13, 2013

We’ve spent some time in the last few blogs discussing writing, so now it’s time to get back to history. Most readers tend to think of homes on the plains as the classic sod home made from carefully cut blocks of soil and stacked in typical brick-staggered style, but in some spots wood construction was more prevalent. Close to underground water, cottonwood trees flourished. This meant large fallen trees could be used for housing construction.
The clay-like soil on the Colorado plains made building soddies a difficult job. When the soil was dry, cutting the blocks of soil was nearly impossible. The clay soil resembled rock. When the soil was moist, the blocks became a sloppy, slick material, which wouldn’t stay in place so the builder spent more time hefting the mass back into place than the builder spent building.
In my book, WILLOW SWITCH, the Everitts also have access to pine slabs brought down from the Rocky Mountains during their freighting operations. Rather that traditional log construction, the wood had been cut in one to one and ½ inch slabs ranging from eight to ten inches wide. The house, barns, and corrals were made of these slabs. (In the 1970’s a developer purchased and replaced the slab corrals, using the wood for interior decoration in their offices.) After the 1890’s tarpaper was added to the outside of the structure to further seal the house to make it wind and moisture proof. Before that time, stucco like material was used to weatherproof. The houses were of simple construction but if a woman was a resident the usually sported at least one window, decorated with a splash of calico or at least a pretty cotton flour sack.
The roof of the house was frequently tin, or in the case of the Everitt’s house, a split pine shingle. These shingles worked well in a year with normal or high moisture, but in dry years the worry of a stray spark from the coal/wood stove burning the house to the ground was always a concern.
Homesteaders utilized whatever materials were available to construct their homes. The requirements of homesteading were specific and always required that a home was constructed and land tilled before the homestead could be considered “proved up on.”
If a homesteader had more money to spend the house might be a handsome mansion of wood, rock, or unfired brick. On most homesteads, however, the house was strictly utilitarian and very small.
By the way, my book, Willow Switch is now available at the Tattered Cover Bookstores.

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HOME, SWEET HOMESTEAD

August 18, 2013

If it weren’t for the Homestead Act of 1862 the western portion of the United States might have remained unpopulated for at least another fifty years or longer. President Abraham Lincoln’s foresight hastened the settlement by offering plots of land, approximately 160 acres at $1 per acre, or for free, if the homesteader was willing to live on the land and work it (read that as putting in some type of viable crop) for at least five years.

Homesteaders had to be at least 21 years of age or the head of a household to take advantage of the Homestead Act. Thus my grandfather who was but 17, was able to claim his portion of the Homestead dream and file for a homestead plot.

Even current day residents of Eastern Colorado will tell you that 160 acres is a pitiful acreage for raising any kind of livestock. Weather in eastern Colorado is totally unpredictable and ranges from the average of 18 inches of moisture a year to a high of 25 inches or a low of 10 or less. This precipitation includes winter snows through summer showers or downpours. This means native pasture grasses are frequently dry or non-existent.

Making a home on the Colorado plains for early homesteaders involved a success rate akin to the gambling odds of winning a million dollars in Las Vegas. The rule for homesteaders was that bigger was always better. Homestead families linked as many 160 acre plots together as possible in order to make a viable ranch living. An old rule for ranchers was that it took 20 acres to feed one cow for a year, so if the ranching homesteader wanted to have enough animals to survive–everyone homesteaded. In addition to the family lands, homesteaders purchased railroad sections to add to their holdings, but I’ll talk about them later.

August 18, 2013

 

For those who’ve picked up my book, Willow Switch, and found it so different from my thriller work, perhaps some explanation is in order. Willow Switch is the fictionalized account of true events. From my personal view, it was a story that needed to be told since it didn’t deal with gold seekers or discontents.

In the late 1870’s probably around 1877 or 1878, Elijah Everitt gave up his Lake Erie fishing fleet and chose to move west. The fleet had burned to the waterline at least three, and perhaps as many as seven times. (It depends on which story version you like.)

Elijah left his oldest son, John Edward, his wife, and young daughter in Ohio. With his youngest son Charles Monroe and a wagon stocked with notions, Elijah began his trek to Denver in the new state of Colorado. Most accounts say the trip took nearly two years, as the men wandered throughout the mid-west peddling their wares to isolated farms and ranches.

Along the way, perhaps somewhere in Iowa, Elijah became ill and was forced to spend several weeks, if not months recuperating. Some of the family suspects the illness may have been tuberculosis which was rampant at that time. Whatever the source, the illness further delayed the trip.

Willow Switch

picks incidents to give the reader a snapshot of the trip, but you can be assured that the men encountered more adversity and calamity that the book relates.

WESTERN EDUCATION 1880’S STYLE

August 18, 2013

By 1800, the eastern states of the United States had a set education pattern. Young people entered the system to reinforce what had already been started at home. Unless the family was devoid of educated members, children had a working knowledge of the alphabet and basic numbers. Using the Bible as a basis for reading, some parents had even taught their children to read. The eastern education system took over from the basics and educated children through at least eighth grade.

West of the Mississippi education took on another form. Other than medium-sized towns where enough children justified a school building, education was left for parents to handle. Far-flung homesteads didn’t warrant the hiring of a schoolmarm or furnishing of a building, desks, and books.

One Colorado resident, Miriam Fonder, began her own school because the children in the area were becoming “ruffians.” Eventually taxes were assessed to pay a minimal teacher’s salary and supplies but were discontinued for a year because of “Indian” problems. According to some stories at one point, a Ute chief and his “braves” stomped into the one-room school, held a book upside-down, and finally stomped out much to the relief of Mrs. Fonder and her students.

As the children’s population increased some pioneers solved the education in a manner similar to the Rattlesnake School District in eastern Colorado where the school was placed on skids (later on wheels) and moved to the place of greatest school population.

What follows are a couple of questions from an 1895’s Kansas Eighth Grade Final school test which may give you a better idea of why an eighth grade education was sufficient. Unfortunately, I have no idea where this test came from so can’t attribute it to its proper owner.

4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.

WAGONS WEST!

August 18, 2013

They look so wonderful in old movies and Western television shows!  Those sleek, frequently white, horses pulling pioneer wagons and stages across the lush green Western prairie.  BUT, here is the reality.  Commonly, horses were not used in pulling wagons or stagecoaches across the plains.  Even the heartiest Percheron or Clydesdales weren’t used for the drudgery of wagon pulling in most cases.  Why?  Those handsome steeds were too expensive.

So, now you ask, what did they use?  Most wagons and stagecoaches were pulled by mules. Not nearly as romantic as those white horses, but more dependable and less likely to step in a hole or a wagon rut and break a leg.  The other animal of choice was the ox.  The lumbering oxen made slow progress, only about seven miles per day.  Small wonder it took months to reach the gold fields of California or Colorado.  Many folks who headed for the gold fields chose to walk.  They could make better daily mileage by walking than the ox team.

With animals another problem faced migrating pioneers.  Water and animal food were a constant concern.  Once they left the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, pioneers learned that many of the water sources in the West were rushing torrents in spring and dried sand in summer.  Water barrels helped with the problem, but the miles between places to fill barrels were long. 

So wipe those romantic ideas out of your brain.  Traveling West was a grueling, dry, miserable undertaking, and horses need not apply.

100th Anniversary Celebration

May 21, 2013

100 years old. Quite a feat. I’m not 100, but the pioneer built Ruth Chapel in Parker, Colorado turned 100 on May 13, 2013. A community celebration sponsored by the town of Parker and the Parker Area Historical Society on May 18th featured hay rides, tours of the chapel, and refreshments of the era accompanied by music from a “brass band.”

I was fortunate to be included in the festivities and spent the morning handing out celebratory red carnations to the ladies. Also briefly neglecting my carnation duties, I had my photo taken in front of the “motor car” which added color and interest to the morning.

The story of Ruth Chapel is similar to other historic buildings throughout the West. Female residents of the area decided it was time for some childhood religious training so began a Sunday School that met in the local school in the 1880’s. Later circuit riding ministers held monthly services in the school. In the early 1900’s, the community was in need of a church. George Parker one of the co-founders of the town, which bears his name, sold the church property for $1 and later school superintendent, Dr. Heath, donated the land. The building had one paid worker, construction supervisor William Holmes; the remaining workers were local ranchers and farmers who donated their time and skills to build the small church.

It didn’t matter the religious affiliation of the worker; the community banded together to get the job done. The basement was excavated with a horse drawn scraper and local families contributed the building’s light plant and furnace.

By the 1913 completion date, Dr. Heath had passed away but the building was dedicated in memory of his daughter who had passed away before the Heaths came to Colorado. It was called the Ruth Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church.

Like all community endeavors, membership in the church waxed and waned with the area population sometimes counting less than ten attendees until the Parker community began to grow in the early 1980’s. The Methodist church out grew the building and purchased the vacant school building next door. The Ruth Chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 and after being purchased by the Town of Parker has become the site of small weddings and similar events.