Christmas Presents: 1864

In 1864, Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine was the go-to periodical for women. It was filled with advice on fashion and family matters along with needlework patterns and “receipts” or recipes as we call them today. Because of the magazines popularity, it is one of the periodicals I have chosen for my characters, particularly Ella Pierce who loves cooking and all aspects of homemaking, to spend time with.

I was browsing the December 1864 issue of Godey’s when I happened upon an article titled


Intrigued, I began reading and learned the article was really advice from an editor to a reader who wanted to know the appropriate gift for a young woman to give a young man. The editor suggested a gold pen because the pen suggests “mental power and moral improvement, of refinement of thought, and progress in civilization.” Wow! All that in the gift of a pen.

But wait! The advice does not stop there. The editor continues with a suggestion of what gift one might give a woman, particularly one who has fallen on hard times and must earn her own way in the world. Mention is then made of a specific class of women who need the gift: widows with small children they must support. After declaring that these widows are often “in delicate health,” the editor declares that the best profession for these women is needlework, and the gift of a sewing-machine would make earning a livelihood even easier.

This gift advice is followed by a list of professions widows should not undertake. These include any attempt at literature (although Godey’s publishes the work of women writers), starting a school (requires capital and time), or opening a boarding-house (which also requires capital, good health, and steel nerves).

I found this advice fascinating because it comes from Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of a magazine for women and says much about the view of what women could do in that time and place. The editor then suggests the rich might do great good by giving these poor women a sewing machine. I can picture the reactions of my various characters to such a gift. Ella would love it, Cordelia would shake her head and move on in her photography wagon, and Aunt Hannah would be too busy in her new career as a detective to appreciate the gesture.

PIERCE SAGA UPDATE: I am halfway through the rough draft of Hiram’s Girls. I’m hoping for a late January launch. Also, Aunt Hannah is getting her own series, so come back for updates. To see all my books, visit my Amazon author page.

Researching Hiram’s War



Mine Creek 1
Photo of the location of the Civil War Battle of Mine Creek in Kansas taken July 7, 2018

The Civil War: Too Big for Me

I knew as I was writing the final pages of Hiram’s Boy, that the next story in the Pierce Family Saga would have to include the Civil War. The thought was intimidating. How many battles should my characters be part of? How would I ever do all the research? Then, sometime in January 2018, I started thinking about Civil War battles fought in Kansas. A bit of research led me to the Battle of Mine Creek, which took place on October 25, 1864.

The Research Trip

When I mentioned my brilliant idea to a group of writer friends, Cheryl Unruh said, “Road trip!” I immediately said, “Yes!” We had thought to visit the Mine Creek Museum in April, but time passed without a definite date. Then on Saturday, July 7, I got a text from Cheryl saying the day was the coolest we would probably get for a while, so let’s go. And we did.

The Museum

The museum is in a rural area off Highway K-52 near Pleasanton, Kansas. Upon signing in, we were greeted by a member of the museum staff. I explained my interest in the battle and was handed a fabulous brochure, which I will say more about later. Then we wandered through the indoor exhibits, which included fashions, bullets, and a cannon replica, as well as large information posters about the battle sequence and soldiers involved. Then Chery and I went outside to view the battlefield. By that time, it was mid-afternoon and too warm for me to make the hike through the field and read the signs, but as you can see from the picture at the top of this post, it was a beautiful Kansas day.

The Brochure

I didn’t look at the brochure I was given until that evening when I got home. My first reaction when I opened it was “Wow!” I still keep saying “Wow!” every time I look at it. This has got to be the absolute best, most informative brochure ever. The entire Price Campaign of 1864 is shown, along with the battles and dates from September through November. Below that map is a brief description of what happened at each point in the campaign. On the reverse side of the brochure is a detailed accounting of the actual Battle of Mine Creek. there are two large maps and two small ones, each showing different views, along with a summary of the action on the day of the battle. This one brochure gives me a wonderful timeline for presenting the action in the novel.

What’s Next?

Given what I’ve learned about the Battle of Mine Creek and what happened in the days before it was fought, I’ve found a title for Book 4 of the Pierce Family Saga: Hiram’s War. I’ll be writing more about that in the next post.

In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about this little-publicized battle on Kansas soil, check out their museum page. The research links are going to be high-priority for me as I gather more information for Hiram’s War.


Defining Panic

FWF5cover blog

In last week’s post, I lamented the lack of closets in nineteenth century houses, but fixing that error in my novel was easy compared to the other problem my astute critique partner, Wes, brought up. First, the offending sentence from thirteen-year-old Lucy’s point of view:

In his letters, Ambrose had said even with the depression the last couple of years, the town and Pa’s blacksmith shop had done well.

The problem?

In the nineteenth century, economic downturns weren’t depressions, they were panics. Yes, Lucy was referring to the Panic of 1857. It was easy enough to remove depression and insert panic, but I couldn’t help wondering how a modern reader would interpret panic. I felt a definition was necessary, but definitions tend to slow down the action and take readers out of the story. Below is my attempt to explain without author intrusion. Does it work?

In his letters, Ambrose had said even with the Panic the last couple of years, the town and Pa’s blacksmith shop had done well. All I knew about the Panic was what I heard folks at the hotel say: In 1857, a ship on the way from the San Francisco Mint to the States in the east had sunk with thirty thousands pounds of gold on board. I couldn’t even imagine what that much gold looked like. Aunt Hannah said banks were shutting down, railroads were going broke, and farmers were getting less money for grain and not paying their mortgages. With fewer people going west, fewer people were staying at our hotel. For most of the last year, Aunt Hannah said the hotel barely made enough to stay open, and my pa and uncles complained they weren’t seeing the profits they once did. Those hard times seem to have gone by without touching Hidden Springs.

Just writing it out here, I’m thinking I’ve overdone the explanation. I question whether I needed all the facts I gave about the Panic. Should I take out the part about the sinking ship and go straight to what Aunt Hannah said? Is the definition of a panic clear? Is it credible that Lucy has this information at the age of thirteen? These are all questions I will continue to mull as I finish the second revision and move on to the third. Any advise will be appreciated.