Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mark Twain Slang (1862)

Mark Twain wasn't old in 1863

One of the things I love about writing my P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries is the richness of American vocabulary in the early 1860s. Another person who loved the language was Mark Twain. In 1863, the quick-witted, sharp-tongued, pistol-packing newspaper reporter named Sam Clemens was living in a Wild West mining town called Virginia City and had just started using the soon-to-be famous pseudonym "Mark Twain". The budding writer delighted in the latest popular slang words, some of which can be found in his early writings and letters home. Even his new name was slang. "Mark Twain" can mean two things: the depth of a sounding in the Mississippi River or two whiskeys on credit at a saloon. Here is an ABC taster of some of the other marvellous slang of the period.

Absquatulate = to leave abruptly
Bach (or Batch) = to live like a bachelor
Cheese it! = Shut up!
Dunderhead = fool, idiot
Eagle = a gold coin worth $10
Put some Killickinick in your pipe...
Flapdoodle = Nonsense
Gimcracks = A Knicknack
Hurry-Skurry = Rushed
Ironikle = Ironic
Jollification = Party, Celebration
Killickinick = Twain's beloved, yet cheap pipe tobacco
Lucifer = A Match (to light your pipe)
Mulligrubs = Grumpiness, Depression
Nabob = Wealthy and Important Man
"Undress Uniform"
Octaroon = Person w/ one Negro great-grandparent
Poltroon = Utter coward
Quirk = a Taunt, Retort
Rough = a Thug, Ruffian
Spondulicks = Money
Toper = Drunkard
Undress Uniform = Long Johns
Vamoose = to depart hurriedly
Whale = to Beat or Thrash someone
Xeromyrum = Dry Ointment
You bet! = common exclamation
Zephyr = a Gale

The first book in my P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries series is The Case of the Deadly Desperados. It is available in hardbackpaperbackKindle and MP3 audio download

P.S. For mor Wild West slang, check out my post on how audiobooks help me write.

Monday, July 23, 2012

7 Tips for Writing Historical Fiction



"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there"

mural in Virginia City Nevada
This famous opening line from L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between is my key to writing historical fiction. I want my readers to really believe they are in the past and I also want them to learn about history. So whenever I start a new novel, I make use the following items, just as if I were going to a foreign country.


1862 Directory
1. Guide Book
Before I travel to a new country I always read a guide book about the history and customs. I do the same thing with traveling into the past. At the moment I’m reading books about the history of the American Civil War and the Silver Boom in Nevada. One of my best guide books is the 1862 Directory to Nevada Territory, an exact facsimile of the Wild West version of the yellow pages... or should I say 'Google'?

Bret Harte 1836-1902

2. Phrase Book

Just as it’s good to learn a few phrases when traveling to a foreign country, I like to get the speech patterns of the past down. For my Roman Mysteries, I made the language modern but used lots of Latin words. For the Western Mysteries I’m storing up choice phrases from the letters of Mark Twain and the diaries of Alfred Doten. (e.g. Americans in the 1800s didn't use many contractions, but they loved the word ain't.) I also listen to audiobooks to get the speech rhythms right, just as I'd listen to some language podcasts before going to Italy or France. One of my current favourites is Great Classic Westerns read by marvellous narrators like Bronson Pinchot. I also love the stories of Bret Harte.

Dressing the west
3. Clothing
Take the right clothes for climate and culture. Wearing period clothing can really get you into the mindset of your characters and make them seem real and immediate. For my Roman Mysteries, I wore a linen stola and woollen palla, plus leather sandals based on a Roman template. For my new Western Mysteries series, I have bought a buckskin jacket and cowboy boots. At the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival, I learned my buckskin was actually pigskin! And one of my best experiences was a demonstration of what western women wore under their skirts during the 1860s. This took place during a Civil War re-enactment weekend in Virginia City at the Tahoe House Hotel. (left)

4. Food and Drink
The 19th century diarist Alf Doten tells me what he ate and drank on the Comstock in the 1860s. When I go to a foreign country, I want to eat what the locals do. Otherwise I may just as well stay home. Same thing when writing about the past. However, I do draw the line at grizzly-bear-cub mince-pies and oysters from tin cans, both dishes which Alf Doten appreciated. And I won't try the Pousse L'Amour drink in Professor Jerry Thomas's book on cocktails published in 1862: How to Mix Drinks, Or: The Bon-Vivant's Companion. If I did, I'd never get anything written!

Anne Dinsdale, weaver
5. Eyewitness - Talk to Someone Who’s Been There
It’s always a good idea to talk to a native of the foreign country if you can. The historical author has a wonderful resource in re-enactment events. Men who dress up as Roman legionaries usually know exactly what each piece of armour is for. Women who wear corsets and hoop skirts can describe how itchy and dusty they get. A Nevada Cowboy Fast draw expert told me why you usually only have five bullets in a six-shooter; it’s safest to leave the first chamber empty. Living history experts are the closest you’ll get to interviewing a person from the past. There are a lot of amateurs and experts eager to share their knowledge with you.

Virginia City rabbit
6. Go there!
Even if your story takes place centuries or millennia ago, it’s always useful to visit the site of the event if possible. You’ll meet people who are experts on the history of their region and who might know things not in books or on the internet. Also, you’ll get an idea of climate: wind, air, light, pressure, humidity, etc. I always like to make a note of what food is in season, what flora is blooming and fauna are migrating. Research is a great excuse to travel. Writing an historical novel gives you lots of fun goals as well as icebreakers for starting conversations with the natives.

7. Souvenirs
Whenever I visit the setting of one of my historical novels, I try to bring back a period artifact. It can be a genuine antique or a convincing replica. There is nothing like handling an object from your time period to bring it alive. If you write for children you can bring some of these artifacts to festivals, libraries and schools and let the kids handle them. My three favourites are my replica sponge-on-a-stick (ancient Roman toilet paper), my as of Domitian (an antique coin) and my brass spittoon from the 1890’s. (left)

These seven factors all contribute to making your setting real and your research fun. Employ them when you write and your book will become a time machine to transport your readers to another place and time.

The first book in my Western Mysteries series is The Case of the Deadly Desperados.

It is available in hardback and audio version


And you can find out about all my books on my website www.carolinelawrence.com

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

5 Colorful (Modern) Characters from Nevada

by Caroline Lawrence

Every author of historical fiction needs some mentors, advisors and allies. Elsewhere, I have been thinking about colorful characters of the Wild West but today I would like to introduce you five colorful characters of the Modern "Mild West" who have made my Western Mysteries a joy to research.


Above: Me and my sister Jennifer the driver (AKA 'Hawkeye') in 2008 about to go on a road trip to scout out a good location for a series of children’s historical novels set in California or Nevada. 

No. 1 - StinkE AKA StinkE
StinkE and me in 2008
In November of 2008, when I first arrived in Virginia City on a location scouting expedition with my younger sister Jennifer (AKA ‘Hawkeye’), the first person we saw was this guy. ‘Stop the car!’ I cried. Jennifer stopped the car and I got out and ran over to him. (I should explain that even in Nevada people do not usually dress like this. Especially on a week day.) ‘You look great!’ I gushed. ‘Who are you?’ ‘My name is StinkE with an E,’ he replied in an authentic drawl. Later on I discovered that he always dressed like this. Unless he undresses that is. I have since seen him in just his long-johns, thankfully with the back flap firmly in place. StinkE and Mrs. StinkE (yes, there is a Mrs StinkE!) are stars of Virginia City’s annual ‘outhouse’ race. He is usually the favorite. He has had lots of practice. I saw StinkE again in May 2012 and he introduced me to his donkey (see bottom of this post). ‘They never told me his mother was pregnant when they gave her to me,’ complained StinkE, ‘but on the fourth of July she gave birth to this one. So I named him Independence.’ When I gave StinkE a complimentary copy of my book, The Case of the Deadly Desperados, he shook my hand. I can now verify the fact that he has real, bona fide ingrained dirt!
(above: StinkE with a E and Caroline in November 2008)

No. 2 - McAvoy Layne AKA Mark Twain AKA 'Lazarus'
McAvoy Layne in Genoa, Nevada
Why was I considering Virginia City as the setting for a series of historical western books for kids? Several reasons, but the deciding factor was that Sam Clemens lived here before he became Mark Twain. Two years ago I was back in Virginia City with my sister Hawkeye. This time my husband Richard (AKA ‘Goes the Wrong Way’) was along for the ride. On our way home to California, we happened across the Genoa Cowboy Festival. As we drove through the oldest town in Nevada, all done up cowboy style, I saw this guy walking along the road. ‘Stop the car!’ I cried. (I shout that a lot.) Jennifer AKA ‘Hawkeye’ stopped the car and I leapt out and accosted Mr. ‘Mark Twain’. He graciously allowed me to get a snap of us together. I have since got to know McAvoy Layne. He is a clever, generous scholar and one of the best Mark Twain impersonators around. He is unofficial leader of a group of Nevada Historians who call themselves the ‘Never Sweats’. Here is how he signed off a recent email:
Your Eminent Beer Archon and Keeper of the Kalendar, e. Pluribus Lazarus, member in good standing of Our Lady of Perpetual Astonishment, Boss Poet of the Comstock, Capt. of the Clemens Cove
Volleyball, Drinking & Fighting Club, Emperor of the Hogwash Guild, Chief Liar by Seniority, and Friend of the Maid of Orleans

No. 3 - Guy Rocha AKA 'Rex Veritas'
Guy Rocha in Carson City
In Carson City, Guy Rocha is a celebrity. He once gave me an impromptu tour and everywhere we went people called out ‘Yo! Guy! How's it going?’ Recently bestowed with the hugely impressive title Distinguished Nevadan, he is a retired Nevada State Archivist, wrestling coach and 'Never Sweat'. I first met Guy on the internet via his Mythbusting series. Some people would call him a party-pooper. I call him a genius. Here is an excerpt from a Twainish tribute that McAvoy Layne (colorful character No. 2) composed for him:
He is the High Priest of Punsters, who can make lesser punsters go back down the hole they came out of to lick their wounds.
Persuasive? Rex can persuade a fish to come out and take a walk with him, and he will tell you a truth for a dollar, when he could get a dollar and a half for telling you a lie. Humor? Slip a little whiskey in his Red Bull, and Rex can make a cast iron dog laugh. Confidence? Rex Veritas carries with him the calm confidence of a Christian holding four aces. We all know Rex is the best historian in the Silver State, where facts are not essential, and whenever Rex uses a big word its meaning is usually a secret between himself and his maker. His face deserves to be framed in sagebrush, we firmly agree, and hung on the wall in the Rotunda in Washington, next to Mark Twain...
I couldn’t have put it better. In fact, I couldn't have put it anywhere near that genius. 
(above: Guy Rocha shows me a marker for historic Chinatown)

No. 4 - Carolyn Eichin AKA Proprietress of the B St House B&B
article by Carolyn Eichin
Every hero has a mentor, the wise person who sends them on the quest, gives them advice and often an object of great significance called a ‘talisman’. My mentor is Carolyn Eichin, proprietress of the B Street House B&B in Virginia City. Back in November of 2008, when my sister and I phoned to ask if they had a room, she said they were planning to go back to their winter quarters the day after but that they would delay their return to stay open one more day. This turned out to be not just a kindness, but serendipity in the highest. Not only is Carolyn a Nevada historian, but she is probably the best cook west of the Rockies. Her four-course breakfasts are legendary and will keep you going till suppertime. She has also become one of my most faithful proofreaders. Best of all, she gave me a 'talisman': the Diaries of Alf Doten. Like Mark Twain he was a failed prospector who became a journalist. Doten wrote about every aspect of daily life, from things as mundane as the cost of meals and laundry to exciting accounts of shoot-outs, mine disasters and suicides. 
(above: Pauline Markham from an article by Carolyn Eichin) 

No. 5 - Bob Stewart AKA The 'Unreliable'
Illustration by Kelly Davis
Another ‘Never Sweat’ is Bob Stewart, ex-newspaper-reporter, political aide and bureau of land management sage. Now a resident of Carson City, I first came across him when Carolyn Eichin (colorful character No. 4) told me about a lecture he was giving at the hotel in Silver City. Although his 'Never Sweat' nickname is the 'Unreliable' he is in fact hugely reliable. He is another one of my valued proofreaders. With a journalist’s attention to detail and accuracy, he is a font of information for Carson City and its environs. Although Bob is an expert in many areas, his current obsession is proving that a small unnamed cove on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe is the place where Mark Twain once camped for a few days until he famously started a forest fire. The only problem is a California author also claims to have found the site and his cove is on the California side of Tahoe. So the two are feuding. Yes! Twain scholars clash over the site of a campsite! David Antonucci is Bob Stewart’s arch-nemesis! On Thursday, June 21 2012, they had a duello in South Lake Tahoe. Not pistols at dawn, but powerpoint at dusk. The debate took place on the grounds of the Gatekeeper's House Museum in Tahoe City.
(above: Bob Stewart on the left and David Antonucci on the right)

It has been a profound pleasure to have made such colorful friends over the course of researching my western mystery series. I guess it is just as well that, unlike them, I am sensible and sober. 
StinkE, StinkE's dog, StinkE's donkey and Caroline Lawrence


Caroline Lawrence's first Virginia City mystery, The Case of the Deadly Desperados, is out now. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Murder in Carson City (1862)

Andrew Jackson Marsh
The period during which my Western Mysteries are set was a particularly rich one in Nevada history. Between Tuesday November 11th and Sunday December 21st 1862 over thirty legislators were hammering out new laws for Nevada Territory. There were at least three clever reporters in the provisional capital, Carson City. These included the 26-year-old Sam Clemens – soon-to-be-but-not-yet Mark Twain – who was on his first assignment from the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. Thanks to the abundance of journalists, not only were the lawmaking sessions well-covered, but we also have an unusually complete record of background events during those forty days. These include weather, dances, weddings, bar-room brawls, bonfires and even murders, of which there were no fewer than five. This is the account of just one of the murders. It is taken directly from the Sacramento Daily Union and was probably written by that newspaper's drily witty correspondent in Carson City, Andrew Jackson Marsh.  

Carson City,  N. T. , Monday, Nov. 24, 1862

my husband Richard, not Con Mason
The good people of Carson are enjoying the sensation of a first class murder, which came off here about one o'clock this morning. A full grown, cold-blooded murder, with thrilling accompaniments, had not happened right here in Carson for upward of a fortnight previously. Consequently this affair has all the charm of novelty! The victim was a young man known by the name of Con. Mason, and is reported to have borne one or two aliases, and to have come to this coast overland from the Pike's Peak region. The murderer is — nobody knows who for a certainty, and probably the law never will ascertain. Several parties have been arrested, and the wildest and most contradictory reports are circulated, as if to mislead.

These facts I do know, however: That about one o'clock this morning a pistol shot was fired in the street; that a few minutes later a man came into the Ormsby House and stated that he had just stumbled over a dead man; that in company with several men and a lantern I went to the spot, three or four squares west of the Ormsby House, and there found a well-dressed, youngish looking man lying stiff and stark on his back, his hat on his breast, his chestnut hair dabbling in a large pool of blood, and his glazed eyes staring upward at the stars of heaven. He was lying in front of a small wooden house with "to let" on the door, and a porch which may have afforded concealment to the lurking assassin. The man appeared to have been shot dead in his tracks, without a word of warning, and to have fallen just as he was found. There was a round hole under his left ear, and a corresponding hole nearly opposite under the right ear, which probably marked the passage of the leaden messenger of death into and out of his head.

You can read the full account HERE; it includes a French love interest, a couple of suspects and a possible motive for the murder.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Saloon Archaeology Museum in Reno


tickets from Piper's Opera House
On the fifth floor of the Ansari Business Building at the University of Nevada's Reno campus is a gem of a museum, currently showing a fascinating exhibition of Western Archaeology. The University of Nevada, Reno Anthropology Research Museum is part of the Anthropology Department. At the time of writing (December 2011) the exhibition called Archaeology of the Mining West features artifacts from saloon digs at Virginia City, the Silver Boom town featured in the 1960s TV show Bonanza and now in my new Western Mysteries series of books for kids aged 9+. (There is also a small case of items from one of the excavations of the ill-fated Donner Party, where pioneers had to resort to cannibalism to survive.)

Jessica Axsom with pictures of a dig
I first heard about the museum from Dr. Jessica Axsom (left), an archaeologist at the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office in Carson City. Every morning for a week in November of 2011, Jessica gave me access to their little reading room so I could do research. On the last day she showed me a whole box of artifacts from Battle Mountain, (where my great-grandmother Corinne Prince was born in the 1870s.) Jessica also showed me pictures of her dig in the Chinatown area of Virginia City, where my books are set. She didn't have any artifacts from Virginia City, but she told me I could see some at the small Anthropology museum in Reno.

Ansari Business Building
Jessica told me to ask for Sarah Heffner, a graduate student in charge of the Virginia City exhibition. A few hours before we were due to fly out of Reno, my sister and husband and I drove to the impressive campus, found the Ansari Business Building and went up to the 5th floor. We were lucky enough to ride up in the elevator with someone who knew Sarah and she kindly took us to the museum. Serendipity: Sarah was there! The museum is literally one room with about half a dozen cases and a research room tucked behind. It is manned by graduate students like Sarah, a "Museum Technician", and volunteers like Robert. (The exhibit itself was designed by a Museum Training for Anthropologists class.)


Sarah Heffner, Caroline & volunteer Robert

antique bottles
A glass case explained that Dr. Donald Hardesty is the recently retired professor of archaeology who was responsible for excavating sites of the Pony Express, the Donner Party and various saloons in Virginia City. In the four or five cases devoted to artefacts found in his digs, I was thrilled to see items from various saloons around Virginia City. The Boston Saloon is particularly fascinating because it is the first African-American Saloon ever excavated. As Dr. Hardesty says, "Archaeology is another way of travelling into the past." Entering the Boston Saloon you might have seen a gaslit space filled with pipe smoke, the smell of lamb chops and fine wine, and the sound of trombone music above the babble of happy voices. (To find out how they deduced this, have a look at this 2-part film clip.)

cases in the small museum
Also on display were artifacts found on the site of Piper's Corner Bar, (later Piper's Opera House), the Hibernia Brewery and O'Brien & Costello's Shooting Gallery & Saloon. It was thrilling to see tickets from the Opera House, poker chips charred by Virginia City's great fire of 1875 and gun shells from beneath the saloon shooting-gallery. There was even evidence of children found in some of the saloons: marbles and a doll's arm! Yes, Virginia City was a wild place, even for kids.

toys from Piper's Opera House Saloon
Artifacts from saloons included bottles, bungs, white and red clay pipes, dice, animal bones, oyster shells, buttons, bullets, coins and even a tooth powder box. A water filter made in London and a glazed earthenware spittoon were represented by photos. There was also a case devoted to the Chinese population of Virginia City, (Sarah Heffner's special subject), including Chinese coins, pottery, tiny medicine bottles, a bone toothbrush and an opium pipe. It was a delightful half hour travelling back in the past. If you have any interest in the archaeology of the Wild West – or Virginia City – and find yourself on the Reno campus, I urge you to go along to the University of Nevada, Reno Anthropology Research Museum. Just tell them Caroline Lawrence sent you!

P.S. You can see more about Saloon Archaeology HERE and you can find out about the Western Mysteries HERE.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Twain's Bloody Massacre


Insensitive, moi?
Was a real life incident in July 1863 part inspiration for one of Mark Twain's most famous newspaper hoax articles?

[Warning: I am about to quote some fairly graphic descriptions of death by Bowie knife]

Before Mark Twain was a genial, white-haired, much-beloved raconteur, he was a hard-drinking, hot-tempered, pipe-puffing reporter with "mutton chop" sideburns and no mustache. (left) He lived in Virginia City (famous for being the setting of the TV series Bonanza) and he wrote for the Territorial Enterprise Newspaper. The Comstock, as that region was called, was wild and woolly, full of "thieves, murderers, desperadoes, ladies, children, lawyers, Christians, Indians, Spaniards, gamblers, sharpers, coyotes, poets, preachers, and jackass rabbits." Despite this rich vein of journalistic gold, Sam Clemens – who had not yet adopted the pseudonym Mark Twain – was not afraid of slandering local residents or even of making up hoax stories to fill blank pages of the paper.

His first hoax, early in October of 1862, was an article about a Petrified Man found in the Nevada desert east of Virgina City. Twain describes a prospector with a wooden leg who was found turned to stone at a place called Gravelly Ford. He describes the man's position, and if any of his readers had bothered to adopt the pose – or even mentally visualise it – they would have realised immediately that Twain was joshing them. (He even signed that article "Josh") One of his main aims in writing this hoax piece was to vex an enemy of his, a man named George Sewall with whom he was feuding. And he succeeded. People generally do not expect the printed word to be an outright lie.

A year later, Twain wrote another hoax, a truly grisly piece about a man living in Empire City who supposedly kills and mutilates his family, cuts his own throat from ear to ear, then rides three miles before dropping dead on the steps of a Carson City saloon. Once again, careful readers would have read the clues and figured out that this story wasn't true. After all, how can a man ride three miles with his throat cut from ear to ear? (see map above right)

But readers of the morning paper pushed away their breakfasts in horror upon reading Twain's grisly report of the unhinged father's murder and mutilation of his family.

Territorial Enterprise readers put off their breakfast by Twain's gory article

Territorial Enterprise, October 28, 1863

A BLOODY MASSACRE NEAR CARSON
From Abram Curry, who arrived here yesterday afternoon from Carson, we have learned the following particulars concerning a bloody massacre which was committed in Ormsby county night before last. It seems that during the past six months a man named P. Hopkins, or Philip Hopkins, has been residing with his family in the old log house just at the edge of the great pine forest which lies between Empire City and Dutch Nick's... About ten o'clock on Monday evening Hopkins dashed into Carson on horseback, with his throat cut from ear to ear, and bearing in his hand a reeking scalp from which the warm, smoking blood was still dripping, and fell in a dying condition in front of the Magnolia saloon... [even more graphically bloody details follow, which you can read HERE.]

The Journals of Alfred Doten

I've been reading (and re-reading) the Journals of Alfred Doten as part of researching my Western Mysteries stories set in and around Virginia City in the early 1860s. Like Mark Twain, Alf Doten was a failed prospector turned journalist. Throughout his life he kept meticulous and detailed journals, recounting the weather, cost of things and concrete details of life in the California gold fields and later on the Comstock, in Nevada.

This morning over breakfast I pushed away my own yogurt and strawberries in dismay as I read Doten's sad and distressing entry for 16 July 1863.

July 16 - About 8 oclock this evening a man by the name of Patrick Comerford committed suicide at the Mineral Hill tunnel, some 2 miles below here [Como, Nevada]. He was living near the mouth of tunnel with some half dozen others - he went into the tunnel and with a bowie knife he cut his throat - first ripped it up from upper part of breast bone to his chin & then cut across nearly from ear to ear, severing the jugular, windpipe &c - did the job securely - his partners heard him groan and went in and found him - he died in a few minutes - one of them immediately came up to town &c told the story - several people went down there - Briar went - he acted as Coroner and the jury gave verdict in accordance with the facts - he was an Irishman and about 35 or 40 yrs old - no reason could be assigned for the rash act - he seemed to be all right enough but somewhat troubled in his mind, and at times somewhat abstracted 
Journal of Alfred Doten p 719

As a writer who constantly draws inspiration from things I read and hear about, I am pretty sure that poor Patrick Comerfield's bloody suicide in July 1863 was partly the inspiration for Twain's "Bloody Massacre" hoax, written three months later. The gruesome details of Comerford's suicide must have spread like wildfire even if not reported by local papers.

Thus it is not too surprising that many Comstockers believed Twain's similar but greatly embellished account of a bloody suicide by Bowie knife. In fact, the article caused such horror and outrage that, Twain had to print this retraction the very next day:

Territorial Enterprise, October 29, 1863
I TAKE IT ALL BACK
The story published in the Enterprise reciting the slaughter of a family near Empire was all a fiction. It was understood to be such by all acquainted with the locality in which the alleged affair occurred. In the first place, Empire City and Dutch Nick's are one, and in the next there is no "great pine forest" nearer than the Sierra Nevada mountains, etc. 

[For more retrospection about this hoax read Mark Twain's Sketches New and Old.]

You would think Twain might have learnt his lesson, but no. Six months later, in May of 1864, he wrote a different sort of hoax, this one about the Ladies of Carson City. As a result of this third hoax the hot-blooded young reporter was challenged to a duel by pistol and had to flee Nevada. But that's another story.

[The second book in my Western Mysteries series, out June 2012, was originally going to be called The Case of the Petrified Man, but had to be re-named The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse as the first title was not considered exciting enough for kids. Like many writers of the past, I am still getting inspiration from events of the bloody Comstock as recorded by Sam Clemens, Alf Doten and many others.]

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Western Mysteries ABCs

A basic GLOSSARY for British children reading the Western Mysteries who might not know what a Desperado or a Stagecoach is... or where Nevada and Utah are.

America in 1862

A is for America - the country across the Atlantic Ocean where people speak English with funny accents. It is also known as the United States, but in 1862, the states only went halfway across America with a few on the west coast. A great chunk of land in the west was called "Territory". Towns in the Territories were often lawless and wild.
Is P.K. a Desperado?
B is for Ball & Blackpowder - this is what old-fashioned bullets were made of. You also needed lint and a tiny little metal cap that you put on the back of each hole in the cylinder of your Revolver to make a spark which set off the powder and get the ball flying towards its target. Later on they put the cap and ball and powder in one metal case called a cartridge. This is what we now call a Bullet.
A Chinese Youth
C is for Chinese (not Cowboys) - in the early 1860s, when The Western Mysteries are set, there were far more Chinese out west than Cowboys. Cattle drives did not begin in earnest until 1866.
D is for Desperado - a desperate person who is usually on the run after committing murder, robbery or other serious crime.
E is for Emigrants - most of the people who flooded to America in the 1800s were emigrants from Euorpean countries like England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, France, Russia, etc. And, of course, the thousands from China.
F is for Frontier - the place in the American West where settled land gave way to wilderness populated by wild animals and Native American tribes.
A Gunslinger
G is for Gunslingers - almost everybody carried a firearm in the 1860s out west, even women & kids.
H is for Horses - The West in the early 1860s was a world mostly driven and powered by animals with hooves like horses, mules and oxen.
An Indian Tomahawk
I is for Indians or Native Americans - the tribes of people already living in North America when the emigrants arrived were as varied as the people from European countries, sometimes more so.
J is for Jackrabbit, also coyote, grizzly bear, prairie dog, buffalo and all the other unique wildlife found in the West.
A Kerosene Lamp
K is for kerosene or coal-oil, which is what folk used to light their lamps. They used candles, too. In 1862 gas had not quite reached Virginia City.
L is for Lincoln - who was president between 1861 and 1865 when America was fighting a terrible Civil War over slavery and freedom.
26-year-old Mark Twain
M is for Mark Twain - his real name was Sam Clemens and he was one of America's greatest authors and humorists. He joined the Civil War for about two weeks then headed west to Nevada Territory with his brother Orion, who had been appointed secretary to the governor. After trying his hand at prospecting, Mark Twain became a reporter in Virginia City where he remained for two and a half years. Many years later he wrote Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, among others.
N is for Nevada - then a "Territory" and now the triangular state to the right of California, (see maps). It is full of deserts, mountains and minerals.
O is for Ore - rock and/or dirt containing precious metals or minerals. The Gold Rush in 1849 brought a huge wave of people to California, then ten years later the Silver Boom brought thousands Nevada, to the Comstock Lode beneath Mount Davidson.
P is for Pinkerton - the first detective agency in the world. The founder, a Scotsman named Allan Pinkerton, coined the phrase "Private Eye". Their head office was in Chicago, Illinois (one of the high-up states in the middle).
A Quartz Stamp Mill
Q is for quartz stamp mill - a machine with heavy iron pistons that crushed quartz so that silver and gold could be extracted.
R is for religious revival - America was going through a great Christian revival in the 1860s and almost everybody was deeply devout.
S is for stagecoach - a large, closed carriage pulled by four to six horses; it was used to carry passengers, goods and mail on a regular route. Sometimes you could ride on top.
T is for tobacco - like religion, almost everybody had tobacco. They either smoked it, sniffed it or chewed it. Those who chewed usually spit their tobacco-tinted saliva into vessels called spittoons. Ew.

A Stagecoach

U is for Utah - now the state to the right of Nevada on a map, then it was a "Territory", a part of America which did not yet have the full rights of the other states.
Nevada Territory 1862
V is for Virginia City - the mile-high city on a steep mountain above a buried "ledge" of silver called the Comstock Lode.
W is for Washoe - the region around Virginia City, named after a lake to the west (see map) and also a tribe of Indians who lived there.
X is for "X marks the Spot" - Prospectors were people who prospected or "looked out for" areas where gold or silver could be found. Then they "staked their claim" i.e. announced it as theirs. They guarded their claims with bowie knives, revolvers, rifles... and their lives.
Y is for Yankee or Yank - slang for somebody from the northern states or on the Union side of the Civil War. A person on the other (Confederate) side was often called a Reb or Rebel.
Washoe Zephyr
Z is for zephyr - by definition a warm and gentle breeze. In Virginia City, a Washoe Zephyr was what people jokingly called the gale force wind that sometimes swept over the mountains and threatened to uproot trees and houses.

If you would like to read a book with all these words and a heck of a lot of adventure, get The Case of the Deadly Desperados by Caroline Lawrence. It is available in hardbackKindle and unabridged audiobook format. Suitable for children aged 9+. Perfect for American history at Key Stages 2 & 3.