Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Holidays Are Here

As I write this post, Thanksgiving is tomorrow with Christmas soon to follow, then it will be a New Year, wow, 2017, I have barely got used to writing 2016. It seems like years go faster than they used to. I can remember as a kid how much I looked forward to this time of year and time away from school after the grind of three months with only Veterans Day off.
How Did It All Start?
Most people know that President Washington first proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving, but it was never official until October 3, 1863, when President Lincoln, elated with a Union victory at Gettysburg announced the first official Thanksgiving to be celebrated November 26, 1863. The short speech announcing the official holiday was written for Lincoln by his Secretary of State William Seward. The speech declared that hereafter the fourth Thursday of every November would be set aside as an official holiday – Thanksgiving.

Maybe It Should Be Moved
That fourth Thursday of November has been Thanksgiving in the United States every year since, except once. FDR, with hopes to help out the Depression, sieged American, moved it to the third Thursday in 1940, hoping it would encourage more shopping before Christmas. Must not have been very well received as Congress moved it back to the fourth Thursday before Thanksgiving in 1941.

Early Wyoming Thanksgivings
This time of year I often wonder what was on the table for Thanksgiving in early Wyoming homes. Rabbit, Pronghorn steaks, Duck, Goose, maybe something domesticated like beef, pork or chicken. How about sides, no cranberries out here, but may have been some nice strawberry or raspberry jam. Fresh baked bread, potatoes, and gravy, and likely a nice desert could round out the meal. Sounds pretty good.

Black Friday
Onward toward Black Friday, Cannot wait to get out shopping at five in the morning. Not really, I will be home, relaxing, I am not one for crowds, or for that matter, shopping. I may watch some of the crazy shoppers on the evening news. If I get the urge to shop, I might order something online.
Personal Note
My wife and I had a terrific time Monday evening in Chugwater, Wyoming, where I spoke to the local Historical Society about the Civilian Conservation Corps and the building of Guernsey State Park.
South Wing of the CCC built Museum at Guernsey State Park


Have a great Thanksgiving everyone and don’t overeat – just kidding, go ahead.

Monday, November 14, 2016

I Cold Weather Coming?

Been Away for Too Long.  It has been almost three weeks since my last post on this site.  We took a great trip south and now I am suffering from some arthritic pain/swelling that is making it difficult to type.  Hopefully, I will be back to normal in a week or so, by the way, not playing any golf is starting to get worrisome also.  Guess it is all just a part of being nearly 70, but that doesn’t make it better. This post I am doing a bit of typing and a little hunt and peck with my good, left hand.
On Vacation, I Snapped this Photo in a Lousiana Bayou
Winter Cannot Be Far Away - This time of year I often wonder or marvel at how much suffering winter caused to early settlers. Two years ago we went through temperatures around zero here and far below that in some parts of the state. This year we have been in the 60s and some days 70s. When I get cold, I turn up the heat, not so easy for early settlers. We often picture, at least I do, sitting in a rocker near a roaring fire with a good book, Ahh – the good old days. But they really were not that good. Houses lacked insulation, and someone had to cut/chop all the wood for winter. Lots and lots of hard work.
My Make Believe Cabin In The Mountains


So, How Cold Was It? - Wyoming’s all-time record low came in 1933 at -66 below, now that’s cold. Last winter, in this part of the state, we had only one night where the temperatures went to below zero. I also played golf, at least twice, every month of the year, and I will not play unless the temps are 45 or better. I’m never sure what constitutes a good winter, but for me, snow at Christmas and more in February and March along with no bitter cold sounds good.


It’s Cold Outside, but not Today - We read much about how settlers spent the winters but I would suspect they spent quite a bit of it grumbling about the weather, pacing the floor, and talking about spring and wondering if it would ever make it.
We stopped to look around, Old Town in Dodge City, Kansas on our trip.
The day we visited it was 90 degrees, unseasonably even in Kansas.


Meanwhile seems like a good day for a hike in the park.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Traveling Back Country Highways

I write fifty, or so, posts each year on this blog and they are all about Wyoming. Now we are leaving for a couple of weeks.
What? You two are leaving? Again?
So here we go again – off on our annual fall trip. This trip will make four of the past five years that we have taken a break and got out of Dodge in late October. It is not because of the weather, which has been unbelievable, just time to do what us old people do – travel a bit. And speaking of Dodge, this will be our second day stop, the old town in Dodge City for the third time. Many think it is over the top touristy, but it is still, fun, interesting, educational and helps with writing inspiration.
My Reto Photo Attempt - I Like It
We will be spending time in Oklahoma, on Route 66 in Texas and then a week in Lousiana. We will also make a trip over to Vicksburg, Mississippi to tour, for the second time, the Civil War Battle Site. Then two or three days to take in some of the shows in Branson, Missouri, followed by a day with family in Nebraska and we will head back home to Wyoming.  Looks like we will be gone two weeks, maybe a few days more. Depending on how much fun we are having and how much money we have left.

I am not sure if I will post anything while we are on the trip, other than a few photos here or on Twitter, but I will get some writing done. We have a few days of rest scheduled where I will sit in the sun, or shade and write, edit, format and all the other things I am behind on.
Maybe I Will Find a Spot Like This

 We schedule our trips well in advance and always have a few things we wish we could be home for. My son coaching his football team in the playoffs, and what looks to be a good Wyoming game this weekend, but I will follow the updates and enjoy the south. Speaking of enjoying, I can hardly wait to get into southern Oklahoma or Northern Texas where many eating places feature fried pies. Not the best thing for my diet, but it only happens once each year.

Meanwhile enjoy the terrific fall weather, winter is not far away.

Last night I had a wonderful time speaking about the Civilian Conservation Corps and the building of Guernsey State Park with the Platte County Historical Society. A truly great evening. 



Saturday, October 22, 2016

Westward Ho the Wagons

I can remember many years ago watching or listening to  various programs that ended with some form of the phrase – “and the rest is history.”

 In 1841 when the Bidwell-Bartleson party headed west the rest was indeed history. This first great wagon train heading west not only made history, but it also led to the populating of the West and later the middle of the country. The next year, 1842, Dr. Elijah White led a group of more than 100 on the all new Oregon Trail. Two years later four wagon trains carried more than 2,000 hopefuls West.  The next year the numbers more than doubled. By 1869 more than half a million people had traveled along the trail to Oregon, California, and later to the Salt Lake Valley of present-day Utah. 
Trail Ruts cut deep from thousands of wagons - Guernsey Wyoming


The goal for all of these travelers was the same. Make the 2,000 plus mile trip in 150 days taking along enough food and finding enough fresh water along the way to make it.  Taking a day a week off, as most trains did, this would mean the wagons needed to average about 15 miles each day six days each week for five months. Today if we drove for eight hours each day for 130 days averaging 60 miles per hour we could circle the earth two and a half times. What does all this mean? The west coast was a long way to travel, farther than anywhere on earth in today's world. Once the new would-be settlers started west, in all likelihood, they could never go back. What a commitment these people were making. 
A view down the trail. When the first wagons came there were not nearly
as many trees along the North Platte River as today



All of the above are my thoughts as we get ready to take off on a 4,000-mile vacation next week,  and we will only be gone 16 or 17 days. My, how times have changed.
Fall at Fort Laramie, the most famous, and most welcome stop on the trail.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

I.S. Bartlett - History of Wyoming


One of the earliest attempts to write a history of Wyoming was by Hartville resident, I. S. Bartlett and published in 1918. Vol 1 of the three volume set can be read online here- https://archive.org/details/historyofwyoming01bart

This book is a good read and one I have bookmarked on my laptop.  This one is the first of a three volume set. Some critiques have been leveled at Mr. Bartlett’s work because a few liberties were taken that would not be found in a modern day history book. Mr. Bartlett lists himself as the editor not the writer of the book and includes first-hand accounts from many sources. He also includes some of his and others poetry and in one place talks about how good the fishing is at Kelly’s Park on the North Platte River a few miles from his home.
The book, because of its age, is a bit closer to history and the beginnings of the state of Wyoming which, to me, makes it an intriguing resource.
Give it a look and enjoy.
Photo of Laramie Peak from our hike today

It has been a few weeks, maybe months since I have put up a few questions of Wyoming trivia, so here it is 5 questions to test your knowledge of the state. See answers under the last photo.

1.  Who led the first Government Expedition over the Oregon Trail in 1842. The group stopped on a bluff overlooking what today is Guernsey State Park, where the leader noted that it was the most spectacular river valley he had ever seen. Ok who was it?

2.  What river did early trappers call the Sisk-ke-dee?

3.  Which is the oldest of the five dams on the North Platte River?

4.  What was the battle in northern Wyoming between the cattle barons, and homesteaders, called?

5.  Which  Wyoming fort has been called the bloodiest in the west?

 
Part of the North Platte River Valley from Question 1, last winter

1.  John C. Fremont
2.  Green River
3.  Pathfinder
4.  Johnson County War
5.  Fort Phil Kearney
  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wyoming's Spanish Diggings

I taught History of the American West and Wyoming History for more than 40 years and during that time attempted to visit as many of the places we studied as I could. Last Saturday, for the first time, I was able to take a trip to the Spanish Diggings, a site rich in hard quartzite rock used by ancient people. My first impression of the area is that it is spectacular, and the dig sites are incredible.

The area lies between Guernsey and Lusk in both Platte and Niobrara counties in a remote and difficult to reach area. The major section of the site was deeded to the state many years ago, but the only way to reach this valuable resource is by crossing private land on a rough two track in an area of wheat strips.
Thanks to Patsy Parkin, President of the Platte County Historical Society, a group of 40 of us spent a memorable day going through the site. Our tour was led by Randy Brown of Douglas, a man who has taken numerous groups through the site. Mr. Brown took our group to the Barber Site and the Dorsey Quarry #2, along with other unnamed areas. 
Here we are - ready to take a look at the Diggings

The Spanish Diggings may be as old as 10,000 years or more. Some believe 5,000 years is closer, and some think the digs date back a mere 1,000 years. Although what year they started might never be known, we do know, the rock quarries at the site were likely not abandoned until trade goods made of iron reached the area. This would mean that the site, used for centuries, has been unused since the early or middle of the 1800s when the first trapper/traders reached the area.
Part of the rock quarries at the Barber Site


Broken Rock Everywhere
Not only are the dates of use a mystery, but how the large rock outcroppings were worked is also a mystery.  Dozens of huge fields of broken rock can be found in an area of 400 square miles, smaller rock; some worked on two or more edges can be found strew about for miles in every direction. 
Worked pieces of stone litter the landscape for miles

The size of many of the broken pieces, some half the size of a living room recliner and thousands the size of basketballs, leads me to believe that they had more knowledge of levers, and physics than most believe.
Taking a break on rock broken thousands of years ago.


Who Built It?
Early visitors to the sites dismissed the idea of the Plains Indians having anything to do with the diggings. Odd, because we now know that they are the very people that built and used the dig sites for at least one hundred generations. Locals and experts, more than one hundred years ago, saw the diggings as something taking more knowledge than the primitive peoples of the Plains and Mountains could possibly have acquired. How these first visitors explained the teepee rings in the area has not been recorded. What was their theory if it was not the first peoples of the area? They came up with an idea far more bizarre. They believed it was the Spanish, the Conquistadors. The fact that none came within hundreds of miles of Wyoming and the additional fact, if it were the Conquistadors, they would have needed to stay for years seems to let that idea pass by common sense. But the name stuck – the Spanish Diggings.
TeePee Ring - More than one hundred years ago a historian/archeologist
visiting the site found a quarter section of land where "A man could not walk
50 feet in any direction without standing in a teepee ring."


So what do we know? First, the diggings were a project of native Indians of the plains, possibly before they were divided into modern tribal distinctions. Another thing we know is that it was not a project of short duration as evidenced by the hundreds, more likely, thousands of teepee rings in the area.

Two great mysteries remain. The first of these is the most puzzling, nowhere on the site has anyone discovered a fire pit or anything resembling a cooking site. Second, in modern time there is no water at the site. There are several dry stream beds in the area that may have been more active hundreds or thousands of years ago as running water or at least spring runoff having left behind potholes of water.


A Park
When John B. Kendrick was governor of Wyoming (1915-1917) he proposed making the entire area a drive through national park. The governor’s idea died out with World War I but was brought up once again during the Great Depression.  When the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps were putting together what was to become Guernsey State Park under the careful watch and design of the National Park Service, there was talk of expansion to the Spanish Diggins. This time, the idea nearly became a project for the CCC, but as did the first idea, it died with war, World War II.

What did I learn?
Many things. If the Spanish Diggins go back as far as 10,000 or even 12,000 years, which is very possible, considering the absence of fire pits, the first stone workers were appropriately Stone-Age people. Stone Age people used primitive weapons and tools, arrowheads, spear points, hammers, and wedges. These people would have been from the Paleo-Indian culture, a nomadic hunting, and wandering people. They also show better than a rudimentary knowledge of hammers, wedges, use of levers, and an understanding of basic physics. Maybe they were more advanced than most people believe. 
Taking a look

It is more than likely that thousands of years later, during the Archaic Period, around 7,000 B.C. that stone was quarried in this local site. This was a period when stone weapons and stone tools were made by the tens of thousands by native peoples. From that time on, hundreds of generations used the Platte/Niobrara County site to mine the rich purple quartz.
The sought after rock - these have been worked a bit

To almost borrow a line from an old Four Seasons, song –

 Oh, What A Day!
Our view from the top of our hike through the Spanish Diggings

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Month of Writing

I knew it would happen sooner or later and today is the day. I posted on the wrong site. This post was meant for my writing site but is live here now. I will be posting my normal Wyoming blog post here soon. 

Another month has passed, fall is here, and the colors are terrific.


Writing totals for the Month
I had hoped September would see an uptick in my writing, but instead, I wrote a bit less than last month. This month totaled 17 blog posts and 11,291 words on all of my projects. This brings my total for the year to just under 167,000. I need to pick it up to reach my goal of a quarter of a million words, right now it looks like I will come in around 200,000. My original goal was 350,000 then lowered to 250,000. I am not sure if I set my goals too high, or if I have become lazy. This year is the first that I have kept exact totals so maybe next year will tell the tale of how many words I write each day, month or year.

Sales are up
Although my word total was lacking, my book sales were and still are up. I have three new books nearly ready to go and hope to update my Christmas book to a second edition and get it out before Thanksgiving.  If I do all of that, I should have a good writing month in October.
Saw these little guys in the park yesterday

What a September
Not much writing in September but it was a great month for everything else. We went back to southeast Nebraska for our 50-year high school class reunion – Class of 1966. I also spend some time in the Laramie Range, visited the old Iron mining town of Sunrise, spent a day at the world famous Spanish Diggings and half a day at one of my favorite places, Fort Laramie. My wife and I also, with the cooler temperatures, started our fall hiking at Guernsey State Park.
Sitting on rocks quarried thousands of years ago at the Spanish Diggings

Garden Book 
Oh, and the garden is looking good. Which reminds me, I have not mentioned that one of my works in progress is a gardening book. Tips for beginning gardeners at altitude, and a collection of short murder mysteries that take place in – you guessed it - the garden. It will be a short book, coming in at around 100 pages, but so far I like it. The others will be my second Blade Holms western mystery and the third in my series of children’s books.
No frost yet - but it is October, and coming soon


Thanks for keeping, Ghost of the Fawn, and Interview with a Gunfighter, consistently in the top 200 the past month, it is appreciated more than I can ever say.