Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cowboy Conversation and Clothing

 It was almost like Christmas the other day when I received four packages in the mail. Even though the Postal Service regards them as flats, not parcels, I'm sure my rural carrier would have loved to have seen these show up during the mail count.

I recently ordered four books for research. One is Cowboy Slang. The other book on western speech patterns, Cowboy Lingo, I received a day or two before these three. I have the book about life in the 1800s, but these books focus on the West. Of the two, I prefer Cowboy Slang. It is organized in a manner that pleases my brain more.

The other book is titled I See by Your Outfit. It shows photos of working cowboys from the 1870s up through about the 1920s. I gleaned a few interesting facts from this book:

1. Back when most stirrups were thick and still made of wood, cowboys wore regular work boots or shoes. The development of the two inch high cowboy heel on what we today recognize as cowboy boots did not come about until around around the mid-1870s. Stirrups became narrower and the higher heel was needed to prevent the cowboys' foot from slipping.

2. The pants of choice for years were made out of wool. Although the farmers and miners liked canvas and denim pants, it took a long time for those fabrics to catch on with cowboys. As for overalls--very few cowboys wore them. They were considered farmer garb. Only when  the cowboys were desperate for new pants and the only thing available at the mercantile was overalls did most cowboys buy them.

3. Many cowboys preferred to wear Army clothing that they bought as surplus from the Army or off of a soldier who needed the money. They believed Army clothing held up better than most of the commercial clothing available. So, for those guys who think buying from an Army-Navy surplus store is a new thing....

This little jewel, How the West Was Worn, I did not order through the mail. I think I picked it up from a bookstore on one of my forays to either Yosemite National Park or Mariposa. It has a lot of good photos and descriptions of clothing worn by men, women and children living in the West.

Oh, and F.Y.I.--I tidbit I picked up from my internet research: most early cowboys, railroad workers and westerners preferred a narrower-brimmed hat. Hats with a wide brim got caught by the wind and blew off their heads too easily. Although a lot of men wore the slouch hats that were popular during the Civil War (Many military units wore slouch hats instead of forage caps.), what was called the bowler in Britain and the derby in the United States was a very popular hat in the West.

The Stetson "Boss of the Plains" first became available in 1870. It did become quite popular in the next few decades and was offered in the mail order catalogs. Since most cowboy photos I've seen are from the 1880s and later, this style of hat shows up in them quite often. But, look at your photos of westerners taken in the earlier decades, and you will see hats with narrower brims.

A Short History of Reconstruction I ordered for research for another novel set post-Civil War, but not necessarily in the west. As for the splash of blue in my top photo, that was some fabric I ordered for a nautical youth quilt. No relation to the topic of this blog post.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Serendipity- The Indiana and Kansas Connection

I am partial to making connections that help make my novels believable if not exactly historically correct. Serendipity connections, such as the one I experienced when writing Aurora Redress (See my post under my Aurora Rescue blog: add joy to my writing experience.

Yes, in Abilene Gamble I could manufacture a connection out of blue sky to explain the hatred Harry Bradford has for Wilfred Osprey. I probably could be like many writers who give no background at all, but just say, okay, here's my villain. However, I like to make believable historical connections when I can.

I placed Harry Bradford in the 10th Indiana Cavalry. Wilfred Osprey served in the 13th Indiana Cavalry. Those two regiments formed about the same time around December of 1863 and on occasion served in the same general region. What is so special about that?

The 13th Indiana Cavalry was partially made up of 84 former members of the Independent Scouts Indiana Company. I find it interesting that this regiment was formed not in Indiana, but in Leavenworth, Kansas. The mission of the Independent Scouts: "assisted the provost marshal in arresting deserters, enforcing the draft, and guarding river border against invasions from enemy cavalry and guerrillas." I don't know what that says to you, but it screams GUERRILLA FIGHTERS to me.

That is connection number one.

Then my good friend and fellow genealogist, Joe Powell, who has a family connection to William Quantrill, the infamous Missouri guerrilla fighter, loaned me a couple of books. The book to the left was published in 1959, long before the internet. It contains many interesting accounts of not only Bill Quantrill, but of other bushwhackers, Jayhawkers, Union and Confederate soldiers and generals including a Union general named James Henry Lane.

This photo of General Lane was taken from the book, Quantrill and his civil war guerillas written by Carl W. Breihan. Before the Civil War, James Lane was a leader of the Jayhawkers, a Kansas guerrilla group that fought against Missourians striving to bring Kansas into the Union as a slave state.   

During the Civil War, Lane raised the Kansas Brigade, also known as a strong brigade of Jayhawkers, made up of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Kansas Volunteers. His brigade fought to return Missouri to the Union. He is known for the sacking of Osceola in 1862. Nine men were killed and the town pillaged, looted and then burned. Criticism about how he handled this military action eventually led to him being discharged from the Union Army.

It was in retaliation to this incident that Quantrill's guerrillas attacked the city of Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863 killing 164 men and destroying the city. One of the goals of the guerrillas was to find and kill James Lane who was in residence there at the time. Lane managed to flee and hide in a nearby cornfield.

What is connection number 2? 

James Henry Lane was born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana in 1814, He studied law under his father and was admitted to the bar in 1840. He served as a U.S. Congressman from Indiana from 1853-55, after which he moved to Kansas to become involved with the leadership of the Jayhawkers which was part of the Free-Soil movement.

Would it be any wonder that Wilfred Osprey, son of a poor, abusive, alcoholic part-time dock worker in Lawrenceburg, Indiana (Lawrenceburg was a port along the Ohio River) escaped his family circumstances by following a local hero to Kansas where his tendency for lawless violence was encouraged among the Jayhawkers serving under Lane? Isn't it reasonable that he fought under Lane in the Civil War until the general was discredited? Needing a place to go to continue his proclivities for violence, what better opportunity for the Indiana native might there have been than to join another unit from his home state being formed in Leavenworth, Kansas, a unit where his history was not known and where he might be welcomed to continue the kind of fighting he relished against those he had for years viewed as his enemies?

Did I need to put together this kind of background for this character? No. Much of it came about because of serendipity while doing basic historical research, not because I spent a lot of time searching specifically for a plausible explanation. But, I like the depth created in my novel when I can make these connections to explain why this particular villain became the man he was who commited the crimes he did.