Back to the West

Coming September 23, 2022

Rose Parsons makes her debut as a woman bounty hunter working Indian Territory. She accompanies Sheriff Dell Hoffman famous for taking down a band of killers in Texas Badge by Dusty Richards and Velda Brotherton.


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I can no longer hold private workshops or attend conferences, so I’m hoping to solve that by offering this monthly blog in the form of a newsletter. All my writing life I’ve enjoyed mingling with “new and used” writers and discussing the talent of writing. So stick with me if you can.

Always wonder what particular fate leads a writer to success? Their particular type of success, because it doesn’t always mean the same to everyone. I’m here to tell you where a story comes from for each of you, and how you as a writer can make it happen.

Ever wanted to be a writer? Struggling with what to say and how to say it? Trying to write those first words? Those in the middle? Wrapping up the end?

Or you are a writer but somehow can’t get the words published. Join an experienced teacher and writer ready to hand over free advice and learning.

Would you believe that, when asked, 85% of adults say they “always wanted to write a book, if they ever had the time.” Until they realized it was a bit more difficult than magic.

It’s a good thing for professional writers that most of them never take the final step to make that wish come true. Only .03% of the general population are professional writers according to Freelancing In America.

In spite of the fact that one million books are available to the reading public, the popular online newsletter, Words on Words states, “when you look at the data, one thing becomes clear: it’s a good time to be a writer.”

I can hear some of you free-lancers currently out of work groaning in disbelief. But hang tight and I’ll help you out of your misery with a tale of elusive success called published.

I’ll bet you think writing is too tough a gig. Or it’s too time consuming? But let’s look at some attractive facts about the job.

Writers set their own hours, choose their subject matter, can carry their work to the park in something as compact as a portable electronic tablet, and guess what? We’re the only people in the world who hear voices and aren’t called crazy. Furthermore, if we write fiction we can lie for a living and be paid for it.

What fun is that? Well, sure, those last two factoids are a bit outrageous. But come on, let’s have a bit of fun. As one of those weird writers, we’re allowed. Right?

Let’s get to the point and back up some of our seemingly unbelievable statements.

Here’s my story of struggling through the swamp of publication. I’ll make it short. My first publications were with magazines back in the 1980s. Oh, yeah, it’s true. The 1980’s existed once in a long ago and faraway time. And yes, just hang in there, you’ll learn something from this from the historic past.

Early on, back then, I recall writing about a woman who raised her own sheep, single-handed turned the battling animals on their back to shave, or sheer, off all that wool. As if that weren’t enough she then spun the wool into yarn on a spinning wheel and knit sweaters from the results. I was allowed to hold a baby sheep in my arms. As with all baby animals, it was quite adorable. I sold the article with photos first time out.

How could it be? Friends asked. Maybe because I tried? That’s the only memory I have of those early articles I wrote and sold. And you can probably see why. It’s true, people had a lot less to keep them busy back then.

Okay, so no magazines out there would ever buy such a story today. Right. In fact, no magazines out there would ever publish such a story, you say? But wait. Have you checked online lately? Do you know how many more magazines exist today than in the 1980s? And how many utterly ridiculous stories are being published? Or not so ridiculous. Come on. Someone is interested in nearly everything.

From 18 million e-magazine readers in 2015 in the US alone, Statista expects the number to more than double at 40 million consumers of e-magazines by 2021. So, there you go, magazine writers. You’re a year past that date. Read some, see what they’re publishing.

While I found that a good start for a late-in-life career, it wasn’t what I was looking for. So I said yes when my employer at a craft shop asked me to write a weekly newspaper column featuring those who hand-made crafts for our business.

Three rural weekly newspapers already carried the column. A ready-made sale. Well, not a sale. I wasn’t paid for it. But again hang on. Think again. During the next months I featured a couple who turned out clay pots and dishes, a world famous father and daughter wood carver, an 80-year-old cedar chest maker, and several varied jewelers, quilters, and artists of all varieties, to name a few.

As it turned out, in those days anyone who created something from nothing was a craftsman, so to speak. While I learned things like those who make clay pots are called pot throwers, I didn’t feel it was an educating career, though I was having a lot of fun. But I was reaching the 50 year mark on my birthday calendar. I needed something substantial to say I did for a living. It was definitely time to move on.

Then one of the larger of the papers advertised for a feature writer and my mother actually talked me into applying for the job. With a notebook of clips in hand, I made an appointment with the editor/owner of the newspaper. I would never get this job. Surely some better-qualified writer would snap this up.

He hired me without glancing at the clips, saying he had read my articles about the crafts people in the area. I cheerfully turned over my prior writing job to my mother, who was eager to take it. (Think she had some ulterior motives earlier?) No matter. At the age of fifty, I began a fantastic job that would last 20 years.

Later, interviews took me up in airplanes of many varieties when they came to Drake Field for air shows. There was Fifi, the only B29 bomber still airborne. It could be I sat in one of the seats attached inside her by my mother, who went to work at Boeing Aircraft in Wichita after my Dad went off to the Navy during World War II.

Then there was the breathtaking ride in a stunt plane that led me to write several articles featuring the pilot, Joe Kittinger, America’s first spaceman. Those articles were all posted on his website pages.

On August 16, 1960, Kittinger took a ride in a balloon far out into space long before the term astronaut was more than a word in the dictionary. And without the equipment needed when later jumps set records, he stepped into the darkness of outer space and passed out during a free fall. When I took my ride in the sky with him at the controls, I had no idea about his background. I’d been told he was touring air shows performing and giving rides. Following our interview I wrote several articles about him and they were displayed on his website.

So take advantage of every opportunity that comes along. You never know when you’ll hit something big and exciting. Come back next week and we’ll check some more career offerings you might find in your search to become a writer. Follow along next week.

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Law Shows Up in the West

Law Shows Up in the West

US Marshals are on The Way

\The wild west was startled awake early one spring morning to learn the judge was coming to town and things were about to change. The Civil War had ended and the Indian problem out west was taken care of. Now it was time for the conquering white man to move onto the open prairies, and into the wild plains and mountains and put down his roots. But first there was a bigger problem looming. But never fear, the man who would solve it was on his way.

Even the end of the Civil War would not change the West as much as the arrival of Judge Isaac Parker. As his boots hit the ground he set up shop in the courthouse at Fort Smith, Arkansas, hired over two hundred deputy marshals and assigned them a job. It was time to clean up Indian Territory of the white scourge riding there.

Every man on the street called this upcoming task impossible. Outlaws into the thousands roamed the 74,000 square miles of Indian Territory freely carrying on what they considered their jobs. Pilfering, train and bank robbing, shooting law abiding citizens, kidnapping, raping, maiming, and any other wild untamed act they could come up with. It was so bad the area was considered the wildest of the West.

Tales of those western deputy marshals riding under Judge Parker’s reign are some of the most exciting in American history. The Western US Marshal District encompasses Fort Smith, Arkansas, where Parker set to work. Today the US Marshal Museum of the Western District is located alongside the Arkansas River there. It opened in February, 2021, a bit delayed due to the Covid pandemic.

Off and on for a year I worked to write stories of those brave deputies. It would take a set of books to cover their adventures. So I made it a point to research some of those who had never ridden through tales on the silver screen or in books. I wanted to find the brave unknown deputies. As the research went on I realized there were a few so brave and well known I simply had to present their tales as true to reality as possible. Still, for the most part, you’ll find stories you’ve never heard or read. You can be sure they existed.

Be ready to accompany the deputies and marshals on their sometimes wild rides and meet some of the worst outlaws they encounter. Do you believe only one Black deputy rode for the judge? Bass Reeves has been presented over and over in film and the pages of books as such. Perhaps he was the first and undeniably a hero. Yet deputies of all colors from many countries rode for the Western Marshals. Some women took up the five pointed star as well, and you’ll find their stories. You’ll read about them all shown doing their jobs as closely as possible to the reality of the times and places involved.

Oh, it’s true I’m known for sexy, dark, and gritty stories, but you’ll find no romance in the jobs it took to rid the west of such heathens and killers as rode the trails in those days. So don’t expect it. But you will find excitement, wild and brave men, and dark and gritty tales from out of the West. The truth as near as history will reveal it.

Western District US Marshals at the Fort Smith Court House 1880s
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Living & Writing in the West

One of the first things I learned about the true hardships of such a venture was the summer I spent a week on my cousin’s ranch 20,000 feet high in the mountains of New Mexico. Granted, I knew I could drive out 100 miles and find running water and electricity, television and grocery stores. But what if I couldn’t have? That’s what I wanted to learn if I were to become sincere and causable in my western writing.

Oh, I’d written a lot of books based on western research and my vivid imagination, but this time I was serious. What would it be like to live in such a way? Even if it were for just a week, that should give me the feel of life in the 1800s. For I had taken on a big job. Working on unfinished books by my best buddy, western writer Dusty Richards. Truth be known, one experience came much before the other, but I’m flipping them to show what we fiction writers can and will do with occurrences in our lives.

The week I spent at the New Mexico Ranch was ten years ago. My cousin was in her 90s. Recently when my publisher asked me to finish some of the manuscripts and books underway when my friend was killed in an automobile accident, he did so because I’d been so close to this writer of almost 200 westerns and winner of 3 Spur Awards. Not because I spent that week on the ranch. Not even because after coming to Arkansas I owned and rode a beautiful red Tennessee Walker named Katy for a few years. Thus I would be familiar with the horse and riding world too. He knew, as I did, that Dusty still rode with me. I could hear his voice telling one of his fascinating and true stories about growing up in Arizona. Or about his days with the rodeo, or on his own ranch after he came to Arkansas.

Would I and could I go back to that long ago time? No, I could not live that way. Only one week told me so. But one week also filled my world with peace. I spent noiseless bright pure days on that high desert where the summer sun warms the skin without burning it. Arising at dawn one could watch the elk wander down to the river which flowed near the ranch house. In my case I only rose at dawn one day as I’m not a morning person. When I strolled casually uphill to the outhouse (no running water you remember) the high altitude turned me into a staggering drunk.

One day the ranch hands rode in, each one as authentically western as any cowboy I ever imagined, right down to a six shooter on their hip. It wouldn’t be long before they moved the herd north to the Colorado ranch for the winter. It was situated in a wide grass-filled valley much lower in elevation than the New Mexico locale. Being among all these people living such a life in the twentieth century was like sweet treats to me. I might as well have been transported backward in time. I soaked it all in, the feelings, the lingo, the smells of horses and cattle, my own reactions which are like gold to a writer.

The hardships in the kitchen were plenty. We cooked on a cast-iron stove burning wood brought in from the timber many miles away. Baking biscuits takes a certain touch not found in our heat-controlled ovens. Keeping the temperature proper was no easy thing. My cousin had no problems, but she still lived and worked on the ranch.

This reminds me of a day when she came in all excited and told my husband he had to come with her and hurry. We imagined all sorts of emergencies, like a cow hung on a barbed wire fence, or a momma unable to have her calf, something bloody surely, as red-faced as she was. When she grabbed a gun off the wall, we really became concerned. Were we being attacked by wild Indians? Surely not in that day and age. When we arrived out in the wide, sandy yard, she began to instruct him on pouring something, I’m not sure what, into a hole in the ground. When a small critter popped up, she took quick care of it with her pistol. The two of them worked for several hours. It seemed her yard had been attacked by gophers and they would soon take over everything if they weren’t eradicated. It was an exciting and disturbing afternoon. Obviously something that had to be done to save her plants. Tenderly cared for were precious flowers, watered from her daily dishpan. Water for the ranch came from a hand-pump in the side yard. What they termed a river flowing through nearby was only several inches deep and a foot or so across.

As I sit down to write yet another western classic, I try to be true to all the feelings of the time and place. I remember my friend and his way of writing that won him awards and accolades for the thirty years we were writing buddies. I try to develop my own style while remaining in that oh so special western world.

Check out The Blue Roan Colt and look for the series: The Texas Badge, Texas Lightning, Texas Furies and Texas Wildling, all by Dusty Richards and Velda Brotherton; Coming soon: Lady Bounty Hunter by Velda Brotherton; and true stories of some of the US Marshals of Parker’s Court by Velda Brotherton

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The first time I saw Dusty Richards, he was across the room at the Ozark Creative Writer’s conference. It was 1987 and we were both new to the struggle of writing, trying to learn all we could from experienced authors. His hearty laugh attracted my attention when I walked in the door. Nervous about mingling with writers who knew what they were doing, I was pleased when he gestured me over.

He must have known how I felt for he included me in the group already surrounding him.

Dusty was always that way, attracting a crowd with his friendly laugh and greeting. Over the years we grew to be the best of friends. Together with the help of a few more local writers, we formed the Northwest Arkansas Writers Group. Money was scarce with some of us back then. Dusty and I attended plenty of conferences in his company truck over the years, bringing back handouts and reports covering what we’d learned. When group members could afford it we attended a distant conference where there would be as many as five of us sharing a room.

Meanwhile our group grew from ten and twelve to twenty, sometimes even more. We met every week in churches, in members’ workplace, in Jones Center; anyplace we could find that was free. We wanted never to have to charge for helping each other. And we never did. The final few years we were together, Dusty and I held a yearly free conference that attracted up to 100 authors. Because of his membership on the Electric Board in Washington County, we had a free room for that conference.

Meanwhile, Dusty and I, his wife Pat and my husband Don, traveled together attending conferences. Then the hoped for happened. We broke through the difficult doors to publishing. Dusty was first and a year later with his urging, I presented a manuscript to a New York publisher and became the second member published.

We spent hours working with each other, the tall, affable cowboy and I, until we were like brother and sister. Buddies, he called us. Then one day some thirty years after we first met, he and Pat left a dinner with one of his publishers and a scant hour later both were in serious condition from a wreck only a few miles from their home. Neither survived. And a giant hole opened not only in my life, but in that of so many other writers who had experienced the generosity of this man.

Because I’d spent so many hours so close to him, the totally unexpected happened. I was asked if it would be possible for me to go over some of his unfinished work and finish writing it in a way that would suit his massive reading audience, I had to say yes. In doing so I felt as if he remained with me. The Blue Roan Colt is the first unfinished book I took on, editing the first half and writing the second half from scratch. The book has been on the market for a bit more than a year now, most of that the Covid effected year, but it’s doing as well as can be expected in a market place where there is no delivery to book stores and libraries. It’s available as e books and print where possible.This is the first book I took on to work with. It’s a wonderful story for Dusty was a born story teller and I am so happy to have been asked to edit and finish it. I felt Dusty in the room with me as I worked. We were so close and I loved him like a brother.

Here’s a brief synopsis of The Blue Roan Colt

Mark returned from World War II with one wish, to own a ranch. With a lot of hard work he turned that wish into a reality. The first time he saw the blue roan, the leggy colt was running hard through the greasewood and chaparral with his dam, a big palomino mare. She’d run away from some rich guy’s stables north of Scottsdale, Arizona, then escaped into the McDowell Mountains and all that Paradise Valley country. From that first sighting, he knew he had to have the free racing colt for his own.

The first time he saw Julie he knew he had to have her. Even after she told him her expectations.

“I think you’re an exciting guy. Not many men your age ride broncs and are still bulldogging. I love rodeoing. I like to be around rodeo and the people, but I’m not going to sleep in an old car’s backseat and eat baloney sandwiches with these younger guys to get to enjoy my favorite sport. I found out you don’t have a woman. Besides you’re tall enough I won’t have to bend over to dance with you.”

I hope those who have bought and read the book enjoyed it and realize with how much love I worked to make it one of Dusty’s final works that contains some of his actual writing.

Because I enjoyed writing with him so much, I was asked to write some books to finish out a series he began. I finished The Texas Badge series with three books. I am now working on a series of my own from that series. It is the story of a woman bounty hunter in Indian Territory. I don’t yet have a title. I recently finished my nonfiction book about the US Marshals working under Judge Isaac Parker in the Southwestern Territory. We hope to see it released soon.

I hope Dusty’s fans as well as many of mine join me on this Western venture. See you there.

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Don’t Throw it Away, You Might Want It

Ever wonder what writers do when they’re not writing? Well, I can tell you. They dream about writing a big hit. Well, at least some of them do. Mostly we wonder what we can turn into another story.

The very first idea I had for a book was about a damaged Vietnam Veteran coming home to find a woman who actually loved him so much she stuck with him through all the problems involved. I was so interested in the subject I spent years researching, writing, writing, editing and rewriting that book. It was actually the first book I wrote. It was 1985 and the news was filled with the troubles of warriors and PTSD.

It is said the popularity of ideas comes and goes. No one wanted that book. What had come was gone.

I went on to other things. Wrote some historical western romances, sold same to big New York publishers. Guess what? That idea came and went, as did New York publishing and its interest in authors other than Stephen King, etc.

Writers are resilient though. We just don’t quit, or most of us don’t. This one didn’t. History. Hmm, now that’s something I was interested in. So Six published historical books later I tired of the heavy lifting of research for nonfiction books and went back to my love of historical romances. Wrote some more. Found publishers interested.

Wait a minute. Where had I put that manuscript for that Vietnam love story? This topic was enjoying a comeback. I didn’t even have a computer for that manuscript and I found it stowed away in a plastic storage container. Out it came. Maybe it was time to get serious about publication.

It was and I did and I found a fella attending our writer’s workshop who wanted to start a publishing house. Did I have any old manuscripts lying around he could publish? He rounded up a few more authors, published our books and we were all off and running. Turns out he’s pretty brilliant in a lot of ways that apply to book publishing. Thus came about Oghma Creative Media.

You know something. I really sort of enjoyed the love scenes in those romances, but had been reading mysteries. Not cozy or sweet, but dark, gritty, sexy stories. So I wrote a series called The Twist of Poe Series. He liked it.

Today he’s publishing all my books. But guess what the first one was? Remember that Vietnam vet’s love story? Yeah, that one I put away so long ago. Goes by the name of Beyond the Moon, it’s getting mostly five star reviews and I hear from vet’s wives a lot about how I wrote their story, or how much they enjoyed reading it. Sure taught me one thing. Never throw a manuscript away and never give up on the book of your heart, which Beyond the Moon was. Because readers asked for it, I’ve written a sequel called Immortal Hero, and if this virus lets up enough we can seriously begin putting books out there again, it will be published. You can read Beyond the Moon as an ebook though I understand there are some paper copies available at your favorite book store. Or get it at Amazon for Kindle or Barnes & Noble.

Sure am happy I didn’t throw that dusty old manuscript away.

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The No Kill Cat

Reading my friend Jan Morrill’s post about her cat Malika and her sad death gave me pause to sit and watch my cat, who has grown so dear to me in the fourteen years she has spent with us. In our laps, wrapped around one neck or another, perching atop my husband’s hip to sleep away the night. I never understood how he could sleep all night with an almost ten pound feline curled on one hip, but he did. Just never had the heart to push her off I guess. She missed him for a long while after he passed away.

Today I watched her through the screen door where she lay in the shade on our deck. It’s high above the ground on the side of the mountain where we live and she likes that her one sworn enemy, dogs, can’t get to her there. Except for lizards, squirrels, birds, and at night braver souls like coons and possums. Today a small lizard ventured calmly across the floor near her nose. She cracked open her eyes, just a bit, saw her visitor and as if she shrugged went back to sleep. I call her my “no kill” cat. I’ve seen her try to make friends of a visiting baby rat sitting in our dining room by touching it on the head with one paw, then walking calmly away.

She is smart, so it’s not that she doesn’t get it. It’s just that she never learned to kill. She came to me straight from a nest of feral babies, two of which had bobbed tails like their father, who was seen roaming through the pastures some time before their birth. My daughter found them in time to save two. The others had died. She brought me the female and kept the male. They looked exactly alike, butterscotch and white, except ours had a bobbed tail and hers had a long snake like tail.

Bobbi learned early on to open screen doors from inside or outside the house, and so all summer she can come and go as she pleases. Yet, in spite of that, she prefers the kitchen door which –yes, you guessed it — there is no screen so the door is closed and mommy has to open the door for her.

She will lie on the deck and watch birds in the tree tops and on the honeysuckle vine that crawls up the post and over the rail. Never does she try to catch one. Squirrels and red foxes who live nearby are her playmates. Only thing she does not like are dogs because they want to chase her and so up a tree she goes. Once so high she had to be rescued. That’s a scary story I’ll tell one day with pictures. But guess what? The fire department will not come and rescue a cat trapped in the top of a tree like they do in the movies.

The only time I saw her panic with another animal, though was when a black bear peered in our bedroom window while she was lying next to me in the bed. She swelled into a huge ball and began to growl and slap the closed window so hard I thought she would break it. The bear must’ve felt threatened, for it left.

So you can understand how I felt for my friend when I learned her cat had died.  Keep the memories close, for they will remain with you always.

I did my best to get a picture of Bobbi here but my life does not include understanding all the new crap on computers. I was lucky to get this published, or did I>?

To read Jan’s blog go here:

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How Romantic was the West?

First I apologize to those who subscribe to my blog. Entries have been scarce while I wrote three western novels last year. Talk about nose to the grindstone. Don’t get me wrong, writing and western history are two of my favorite interests. Now that those three books are done and in line for publication with Oghma Creative Media, I’ve been set the task of writing a creative non-fiction novel about the US Marshals who rode for the law in the Western Arkansas District.  Hundreds of deputies wore the badge when Judge Isaac Parker took over the task of enforcing the law on the borderline of Indian Territory. There outlaws by the droves sought safety. Something that didn’t last when the tough judge brought down his gavel while outside swung a noose ready for the final punishment of these tough men.

gallows Ft. Smith

He may have earned the title of the Hanging Judge, but he was once quoted as saying that his job was not nearly as important as that of the marshals and their deputies who kept the law in the 74,000 square mile Western Arkansas District. Many stories will be uncovered as I research for this formidable assignment.

Meanwhile, I’m running across stories of life in those days and I want to share some of them here with you. Stories of families and how they survived the harsh life of the western frontier. First, because I’ve met some folks who argue that Arkansas is not part of that early western frontier, that we are a southern state, you have to realize that Fort Smith Arkansas lay within shooting distance of some of the wildest country that existed when the westward movement began following the Civil War. Indian Territory was home to five civilized tribes plus a scattering of dozens of others. Those committing crimes in Indian Territory were supposed to answer to Indian Law. I use that term because in those days there was no such thing as “politically correct.”

The enormous amount of outlaws seeking asylum in Indian Territory overpowered all efforts to contain the killings, so US Marshals and their deputies were assigned the task. Indian Territory alone was 70,000 square miles. Add to that the western counties of Arkansas and 50 square miles of southern Kansas and these brave men were given a back breaking task.

But if you want to know more about this wait for my book to come out. Here I’d like to give you an example of how ordinary people went about life under such circumstances. One man wrote that living back then was impossible to imagine. Unlike the romantizing of movies, riding in a wagon over the impossibly rough roads often caused broken bones. He added that there were no cars, electricity or tv. Never mind the absence of the electronics of today. Another woman wrote that people took a bath once a year, that they did not have toothbrushes, toothpaste or pencils. She added that the girls helpt their moms do dishes.

Here’s an example of how doing the dishes was accomplished. First build a fire, either in the cookstove if it had a reservoir, or outside under a big cast iron pot. Go to the well and draw a few buckets of water, some for washing, the rest for rinsing. Pour half the water in one or the other container to heat. Grate some lye soap to make suds in which you wash the dishes. Place the soapy dishes in another pan, get more hot water from the reservoir or put more into the outdoor pot in which to rinse. Then do your best to talk your sister or brother into drying each rinsed dish and putting away in the cabinet.

Washing the laundry was much the same only harder work. Most families did the laundry on Monday, spent all day Tuesday ironing with two flat irons kept on top of the cookstove with a fire kept burning.

Pict rose dunn aka r c0001

A fashion accessory for many ladies on the Western frontier. This dress might get laundered twice a year, or just worn till it wore out and thrown away.

The Harrison family picked up and moved from Arkansas to Indian Territory. We can’t imagine what that move must’ve been like for them. They had originally moved to Washington County, Arkansas in 1839. It wasn’t mentioned why they went on to Indian Territory later, but it was after the end of the Civil War. Imagine if you can packing all your worldly belongings in a wagon, perhaps loading down a pack mule or horse with as much as possible and lighting out for the wilderness of the outlaw west. It was not exciting nor was it romantic. It was going without bathing or washing clothing. It was nights sleeping on the ground, hoping snakes didn’t join you in your lumpy bed. It was keeping a 24 hour watch for angry Indians who wanted you off their land. It can be supposed that this family might have gone west for the land run, I couldn’t find a date that they moved from Arkansas.

They would soon have to count on the protection of US deputy marshals who were paid 6 cents a mile whether tracking a killer or delivering court papers. They drew 2 dollars a mile for delivering a summons or delivering a killer to the courthouse. Other small duties might bring in a few more cents at the end of a month. Most of their work went unpaid. Yet there were 210 deputies who signed up to serve during Parker’s first term as judge.

As I research for the US Deputy Marshal’s book, if I run across some things readers might enjoy hearing about I’ll share them. But I’m hoping this will be just enough to whet your appetite for the book and I’ll keep you posted on its progress and publication schedule.

This is a sample of one of the deputy badges used in later years. More about how those badges came about next time. Just little snippets of the information and stories to be found in the book.

deputy badge

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Following the Butterfield Overland Mail Route

butterfield horses

September 16, 1858 — In the early mist of a warm Ozark morning, John Butterfield rose from the seat of the stage, lifted his whip over the backs of a team of six horses, and cracked open the late summer stillness. Tall and robust at 56 years of age, he was about to ride into his place in history.

After unloading packets of mail from the train from St. Louis to Tipton, Butterfield drove the coach on the first leg of its journey west. The brightly painted stage arrived in San Francisco a scant 24 days later, one day under the contracted agreement.

In 1857, after winning the government contract to deliver the United States Mail from St. Louis to San Francisco in the seemingly impossible time of 25 days, John Butterfield sent out agents who spent a year surveying existing roads which could be used to fulfill that contract. They built no roads, but sometimes constructed short cuts between established routes. In effect, Butterfield was overseeing  the creation of the first Interstate thruway. It had to be short and fast to meet the demands of the contract.

Butterfield trail

In the twelve months prior to opening the route, Butterfield had some 2,800 miles of route surveyed, purchased land for stations and mapped out river and mountain crossings. The firm purchased 1,200 horses and 600 mules, branded each with an OM (Overland Mail)and shod and distributed them to the 141 stations. Over 1,000 men were hired and trained to serve as conductors, superintendents, drivers, station masters, veterinarians, blacksmiths, and wranglers. Orders and specs were drawn for over 250 regular coaches, special mail wagons, freight wagons and water tank wagons. Coaches were painted either red or green and the running gear was bright yellow. The colorful coach, inscribed with the O.M.C. insignia on the doors, weighed 3,000 pounds and had a load capacity of 4,000 pounds. Though contracted to deliver the mail in the shortest time possible, the stages would carry six to nine passengers inside and an unlimited number on top. Celerity wagons, or mud wagons, were used on the rougher sections of the route, which included the rugged Boston Mountain crossing south of Fitzgerald’s Station near Shiloh (Springdale) Arkansas, and the hotel stop in the county seat of Fayetteville.

The difficulty of Butterfield’s accomplishment has been compared to that of sending a man to the moon in our lifetimes. For our growing nation, no other achievement may compare, for not only did he create a reliable line of communication by establishing the longest mail route in the world, he increased the rate of speed of overland travel. It was believed that no one could manage more than 25-30 miles in 24 hours. He proved them wrong by traveling 120 miles in that length of time. His mail deliveries often made faster time than ocean steamships. But most important to our country’s history, he cemented a bond of common interests between the East and the West that saved California to the Union when the Civil War broke out a few years later. Ironically, the war would shut down the southern route of the Butterfield Mail route. But in those three short years, one man’s ingenuity, fortitude and stubbornness earned him a permanent place in history.

Many people today confuse the Butterfield Stage Route with the Butterfield Overland Mail Route. When Washington County decided to mark the route from Shiloh to Van Buren, my husband and I were asked to locate, verify and map the miles from Strickler through the Boston Mountains into the Arkansas River Valley to the river crossing.

This endeavor was one of the more satisfying of my efforts while researching and writing about the history of the Boston Mountains. So many people held different ideas of that route because the Butterfield Stage had many routes through Missouri, Arkansas and on west. We were able to locate and order the books written by a couple who followed the route in an old Buick and mapped every mile. We also located a man who lived near Strickler whose father rode it often on horseback.

butterfield signing

One beautiful Ozark morning we and the board responsible for the mapping met and spent five hours with him. He pointed out every gap crossing, watering hole and actual existing road for us. It was truly a trip into the past, for many of us imagined we heard chains rattling, wheels creaking and animals chuffing on their way alongside us. Unfortunately, though the route was officially marked from Shiloh to the southern city limits of Fayetteville, it has never been marked along the rugged Boston Mountain Route where only mules were used to pull the wagon. But we spent hours walking many of those miles precisely where John Butterfield laid them out.

Each of us who assisted in this effort signed the large sign that marks the beginning of the route at the northern border of Arkansas.

















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Naked in the Bayou


Unidentified                                                   Health School

Wilderness Schools and Reminiscence

They’re almost invisible today, all grown up within trees, brambles and kudzu vines. But if you listen you can hear the children’s laughter, the squeal of a girl chased by a boy, the ringing of the bell that recess is over. Boys lined up at one door, girls at another, to go back inside and finish the school day. Then walk home, sometimes a mile or two. Or the lucky ones would ride home in a wagon brought by a parent.

They have names like Health and Bethlehem, Who’d Thought It, and Black Oak. Within their walls a few generations of Arkansas children learned their A,B,Cs, their ‘Rithmetic and their Writin’. They grew up to be teachers, farmers, loggers, engineers, and builders; mothers and fathers and preachers. And lawmen. Very few became gangsters, or killers. Boys carried guns to school, rifles they used on their way home to kill meat for supper.

It was definitely a different world. They never heard of heroin or crack. If they smoked it was out behind the barn and if they were caught it meant discipline.

I had no intention for this blog to turn out this way. It started to talk about one room schools and small towns and the lives once lived in the Ozarks. Guess I just kind of got off track.

In those days school and church were held in the same building. Now that I’ve mentioned all the nostalgic memories, there are others. My Dad came to Arkansas when he was sixteen to help build Highway 71 from Mountainburg through the fifteen miles of rugged hills to Winslow. It was a road, but a treacherous one. His Dad was a powder monkey, which to those who don’t know, is the man who made the holes in bluffs and boulders, stuck in sticks of dynamite and lit the fuses blowing the way for the highway.That was my Grandpa, a half Cherokee Indian from Tyler, Texas who had four rough boys for sons, my Dad being the oldest.

My grandmother, also half or more Cherokee, had died leaving two boys and two older girls from a previous marriage and Granddad’s boys. Now my Dad was a man who had more fun than most and just about everything he thought up was funny. The most hilarious being the Sunday afternoon when one of the churches in Mountainburg was having a picnic along the banks of Frog Bayou, now known as Clear Creek. He and a couple of his friends wearing boots and hats, ran shouting and naked down the middle of Frog Bayou during the picnic.

I doubt anyone is alive today who might remember that, but even so I won’t name the other two boys who were with him, but every time he told that story he laughed so hard he had tears in his eyes. Perhaps the tears were a bit from the nostalgia of a time when something like that was funny and no one was arrested or shot. He also remembered turning over outhouses during Halloween and the time he saw a man get his throat cut from ear to ear during an argument in downtown Fort Smith. Said the man was sitting at the wheel of his car when it happened and he bled to death right there. So bad things did happen back then.

My Dad met my Mom and never went back to Tyler, Texas. They married and lived on the mountain above Shepherd Springs in a small log cabin he built. He helped build a lot of the rock houses that still stand alongside Highway 71. So this is my home, where my roots are, my memories too. I’ve been in other places until about 45 years ago when I returned here to stay. I never attended a one room school because my mother insisted on moving to Mountainburg across from the school there when I turned five. The house we lived in was torn down several years ago to add property to a local church. The house I was born in is gone, and is now a picnic area above the shores of Lake Fort Smith. I suppose as I get older I reminisce more, so forgive me if I waxed sentimental a bit.


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