The Mystery of Loretto Chapel

Tucked away at the end of the Santa Fe Trail in Santa Fe, New Mexico is the Loretto Chapel. Two mysteries surround it to this day.

The story begins when Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy was appointed to the new territory in 1850 and was ordered to spread the faith and set up an educational system. But he couldn’t do it alone and wrote letters begging his fellow priests, brothers, and nuns to come help.

Seven sisters agreed to come but only six made it. They arrived in 1852 and set up a school. It began with only a few pupils to approximately 300. Then they decided they needed a church. The sisters pooled the tuition, got donations, and even gave up their own inheritances to come up with the money.

So, builders came and set to work and the sisters and bishop ended up with a beautiful Gothic chapel—but the carpenters left no access to the loft which was twenty-two feet above. The men left without solving the problem. They were done so the rest was up to the bishop and the nuns.

To have a choir loft but no way to it couldn’t be allowed to remain. Men offered to build a regular staircase but it wouldn’t fit in the space.

The sisters of the chapel prayed to Saint Joseph who was the patron saint of carpenters. For eight days they prayed with no results. On the ninth day, a man appeared with his donkey and toolbox, asking for work.

They immediately hired him and the only stipulation he put on them was that he be allowed to work in private. For months, he diligently worked building a breathtaking circular staircase from the most beautiful wood. It was magnificent and beyond the sisters’ wildest dreams.

When they went to pay him, he’d disappeared. No one knew his name or where he came from. They’d never thought to ask. They looked high and low with no results.

The staircase design was innovative to say the least and some things about it perplex architects to this day.

The staircase has two 360 degree turns with no visible means of support. It’s totally built without nails, using only wooden pegs. No one knows how the carpenter got the precise number of stairs to come out even to the loft and each step is the same measurement. Plus, the staircase was not attached to any wall or pole. Also, a mystery is the wood used. The staircase is made of spruce which only grows above 8,000 feet above sea level. It would’ve been very difficult for a man and a donkey to get and the nearest would’ve been quite a distance.

The Loretta Chapel has been the subject of TV shows and movies and was featured on Unsolved Mysteries.  If you’re ever in the Santa Fe area, visit this beautiful church and see the staircase firsthand. It’s quite something.

What are you thoughts on who the carpenter might’ve been? To this day, folks refer to him as St. Joseph. I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card to another person this week.

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Fort Worth Marshal: Jim Courtright

The American West was full of men and women who settled with little more than a dream in their pocket. In the hardship and empty loneliness, the lines often became blurred between good and bad–where a person wasn’t all of one thing. Such was the case of “Long-haired” Jim Courtright.

His name was actually not Jim at all. He was born Timothy Isiah and he hated the name so much he once shot a man for saying it. They think the “Jim” came when someone misunderstood Tim. At least that’s the best anyone can figure.

In any event, he served and was wounded during the Civil War, fighting on the Union side. Following war’s end, he wound up as a paid gun for a ranch in New Mexico. He loved to wear his hair down onto his shoulders as was the style of scouts which he worked at for a time. In later years when he served as marshal he cut it short.

He always wore twin revolvers, their butts facing forward. He spent most of his life drifting from one thing to another. He even tried to settle down by marrying fourteen-year-old Sarah Weeks. He taught her to shoot and they joined a Wild West Show for a while, but his feet soon grew restless.

The married couple arrived in Fort Worth, Texas in 1876 where Jim was elected the marshal. His job–to crack down on the saloon and brothel area called Hell’s Half Acre. Within a short time, he cut the murder rate in half. All was well and good. Right?

The small jail was a crude log structure with no running water and no toilet. It only had one barred window for light and air. Most of the time it was packed solid with men and women he arrested for something or another–or what he made up.

To say he won a popularity contest would be wrong. A showman, he was too quick to draw his guns and shoot. He didn’t own Fort Worth but he sure thought he did. When orange flame shot from the end of his guns, folks fell dead in the streets.

While marshal, he saw another opportunity too lucrative to pass up. For a set amount of money, he offered to protect merchants and saloon and brothel owners. When they refused, the disgruntled person usually ended up dead. Either that or they quickly left town. With no one to stop him, he became too powerful. Court records show he was a bully and a brawler and his enemies stacked up.

Finally, he was defeated in the 3rd re-election and he went to New Mexico where he worked as a hired gun, guard, and deputy. However, he didn’t stay long and returned to Fort Worth to open up a detective agency, intending to pick up where he left off in the protection business.

New people had arrived during his absence. One of them was Luke Short who had drifted down from Dodge City. Among his long list of friends were Bat Masterson, Jim Masterson, and Wyatt Earp. Luke had opened up the White Elephant Saloon and gambling house and was raking in the dough. When Jim Courtright came around to collect protection money, Luke said no.

Words were passed and one thing led to another and they faced off in the middle of the street in 1887 in one of the most famous gunfights in old West history.

Luke Short

Luke Short put five bullets in Jim and killed him. At 41 years of age, with a wife and three children, he was buried in the Oaklawn Cemetery in Fort Worth.

Over the course of his life, in addition to being a scout, he worked as a jailer, sheriff, marshal, hired killer, detective, and racketeer.

It seemed he had every opportunity but just couldn’t stay on the right side of the law.

Any thoughts about his life? Jim had nothing to avenge, no wrongs to right, nothing to prove. Did those twin guns give him the bad attitude and make him think he was invincible? Or was he a misunderstood man who drew the short straw? I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card again to someone who comments.

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I Have a Winner!

Oh my! Didn’t we have fun talking about schoolmarms and masters?

I really enjoyed that discussion.

And now for the drawing……

This week’s winner of the $10 Amazon gift card is………


          Yippee! Congratulations, Elaine! I’ll contact you in a little bit.


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Schoolmarms and Schoolmasters

Education on the American Frontier was a little spotty and it usually depended on how settled your area was as to how much your children received. And because of the shortage of women, most teachers were men. In that case they were called school masters. I know this won’t come as a huge shock to you, but the men had it a lot easier as you’ll see.

But back to the schools. If a town or community had one it was generally a one-room kind with all grades thrown together. First of all, can you imagine the chaos the teacher had to deal with having teenagers and first graders learning in the same room? Good Lord! That was recipe for disaster right there. But they didn’t have a choice. It took a strong teacher and a whole lot of patience.

Because most communities didn’t have money to build a house for the teacher, they were required to stay in homes with their students. They’d move from place to place at two-week intervals. Nope, not me. I couldn’t do that. No telling how uncomfortable that must’ve been, especially if the child’s parents disagreed with her teaching method.

Now, what proof did a teacher have to show that they were qualified? None beyond being able to read and write. That’s it. In the larger cities they had to pass a test but not out in the countryside.

So, you could show up and SAY you were a teacher and if they needed one, you were hired. It was the same with doctors, lawyers and every other profession. No one cared and furthermore they had no time to check you out. They were in such great need of people to fill those roles. My thoughts are whirling here. I might need to put a teacher in another story.

But most of the time, the teachers were students who’d gone to the eighth grade (which they considered the equivalent of 12th now.)

The teacher would arrive before daylight because they were required to put in a full day before the pupils arrived at 8:00.

Okay, so here is the list of rules for 1872 schoolmarms.

  1. Light a fire, fill the lamps, clean the chimney, clean the blackboard.
  2. They will bring a bucket of water and a one of coal.
  3. Sharpen the pencils.
  4. Male teachers were allowed to take one evening a week for courting purposes. They got two evenings a week if they were regular churchgoers.
  5. Schoolmarms were not allowed to court and were dismissed if they did or got married. (See what I mean? Such double-standards even back then.)
  6. Once school let out, the teacher would go clean the schoolhouse and go to their assigned home. They were then required to help the family with their chores. Before bed, they were supposed to read an hour from the Bible.
  7. Each teacher was required to put aside a good portion of their salary for lean times so they wouldn’t be a burden on society.
  8. Reasons for dismissal were: smoking, drinking, gambling or (get this) getting a shave in a barber shop. I assume that pertains to men. But why? Makes no sense to me.
  9. If they perform their duties and have no marks against them for five years, they got a .25 raise…if the school board approved. Wow!
  10. Schoolmarms had to wear at least two petticoats and wear no bright-colored clothing. The dresses could not show her ankles.

By the way, the salary for male teachers was around $25 a month. For women, $20 even though the school boards agreed women had the best temperament for the job.

Still, for women it must’ve seemed a pretty good deal. Jobs were extremely scarce for them. Teaching was a lot better than prostitution.

What do you consider the worst part of being a teacher back then? What was the best? I’m giving away another $10 Amazon gift card to one person.

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I Have a Winner!

Deepest thanks to everyone who stopped by and left a comment. I’m so glad you enjoyed my Jesse Evans piece.

Winner of the $10 Amazon gift card……..drumroll…………..


Congratulations, Meg! I’ll contact you and arrange delivery.

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An Old West Mystery

I just love it when a historical figure combines with a mystery. It sure makes for some interesting reading—and speculating.

Jesse Evans was half-Cherokee and graduated from the Washington and Lee College in Virginia. Why would a college graduate turn into an outlaw? That was my question and there seems to be no clear answer. The only thing historians can figure out is that his family turned him into one.

Jesse is seated on the left. The other two are gang members.

He was arrested with his mother and father in 1871 in Elk City, Kansas for passing counterfeit money. He was released not long after and wound up the next year in New Mexico Territory where he worked for a while for John Chisum on his ranch.

From there, he drifted and wound up in the John Kinney Gang for a while. He and John became very close. For some reason, they parted ways and Jesse was hired in the Murphy/Dolan faction in the Lincoln County War and fought opposite Billy the Kid’s regulators. Strangely, Jesse Evans was more feared than Billy. He murdered John Tunstall which ignited the powerkeg.

Following the end of the Lincoln County War, Jesse killed an attorney and went on the run from the Texas Rangers.

The Jesse Evans Gang. I think he might be the one seated (left)

The Rangers caught up to him and a gang member near Presidio Del Norte in Mexico. Jesse killed a Ranger. They captured him and he was sent to Huntsville. One day during a work detail, he escaped. They recaptured him a few months later and he finished out his sentence.

Jesse was released in 1882….and disappeared. He was never heard from again.

Where he went, what he did from there is still a mystery.

Personally, he made so many enemies that I think someone was waiting for him and killed him. Maybe a Texas Ranger.

However this takes an odd turn…in 1948, 70 years later, Jesse’s brother died and his estate needed settling. A man named Joe Hines appeared, claiming to be Jesse and saying he’d been living in Florida under the alias. He was able to sufficiently prove it to the satisfaction of the court. But was it really true? No one knows.

This whole story of his life is strange to me. How could an educated man with a good start in life end up a murdering outlaw? Does something just snap in his head? And what about his parents? Why did they involve their son in their illegal activities? But still….to go from counterfeiting to killing? Just so strange.

What are your thoughts? I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card to someone.

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The Daily Grind

I’ll bet from the title you’re thinking this is about the ordeal of getting through each new day.

Nope. That’s not what this is about.

I’m talking gristmills, the places the farmer took his wheat and corn to be ground into meal.

During the 1850’s, more than a 100,000 gristmills dotted the American countryside. They were in great demand because it spelled a farmer’s ruin if he couldn’t get this crops ground. Often he had to wait for weeks before the miller could get to him, depending on how many were ahead of him.

The mills were a community gathering place or social center. Everyone needed to get their grain converted into meal. Often the people packed a lunch and made a day out of it. And many mills had a pond where young and old alike could cool off, and in many instances, throw a line in the water hoping to catch some fish.

Usually the mills were situated on a river or stream and the water powered the large paddlewheel that turned the huge buhrstone and ground the grain into meal.

But in areas where there was little water, horses and mules turned the heavy buhrstones which weighed about 1,200 pounds each and were mostly granite.

A heavy Buhrstone with deep ridges to cut the grain.

Meal that was ground in this method, whether wheat, buckwheat, rye, or corn was very healthy because the oils and germ were retained in the finished product. Not at all like what we buy out of the stores today. Thus, the pioneers’ way preserved all the nutrients and flavors.

In a system that was profitable for all, the farmers gave a certain amount of grain to the miller in exchange. The miller in turn sold his portion of the meal and made a tidy profit. That was the way they stayed in business.

Then along came technology and changed the whole landscape.

Sadly today, there are only about a thousand gristmills—both in working and nonworking condition. Milling has become a lost art, mostly relegated to the pages of history.

The oldest mill in operation is in Wye Mills, Maryland. It was built in 1682 and shipped barrels of flour to the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Today, they offer tours and on the first and third Saturdays of each month from April to November they grind grain into meal and sell it.

War Eagle Mill located near Rogers, Arkansas is another very old, fully operational, mill. They’ve been in business for more than 175 years and hope to keep going a long time.

So, what do you think about my daily grind? Have you ever been to a gristmill or eaten food made from stone-ground meal? I’ve made cornbread from the cornmeal and there’s nothing like it. I wish for the olden times—before technology and modern mills. When we were healthier and possibly happier.

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Favorite Treats From Times Past

Hi everyone, this is quite a departure for me on here. Maybe I’m being sentimental or maybe I’m just hungry. Ha, probably both truth be known!

As I’ve talked about often, times were extremely hard when me and my baby sister, Jan, were growing up. My parents barely made enough to keep the wolf from the door, only sometimes he slipped in anyway.

Also, as most know, Jan and I have a huge sweet tooth. We learned to be very creative and make things that called for only a few ingredients. Our treats were simple, but satisfying.

Such as kool aid mixed with sugar and eaten with a spoon. I can’t believe we did that.

Mama made us cookies from pie dough. She’d make up the dough like normal, roll it out and cut into designs, then sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top and bake. They were yummy. In England, they called these tea cakes. We didn’t know we were being fancy.

Rice Krispy Treats were easy and quick with cereal, butter, and marshmallow creme.

But our favorite of all were Chocolate Oatmeal No Bake Cookies. Oh man, we ate a bunch of those at our house!

Here is the list of ingredients:

½ cup of butter

1 ½ cups of white sugar

½ cup packed brown sugar

½ cup of plain milk

4 Tbs cocoa

1 pinch of salt

2 teas vanilla

3 cups dry quick-cooking oats

Put the first 6 ingredients into a medium sized sauce pan, bring to a rolling boil and once it reaches the boil keep it cooking for one minute. Add the vanilla and stir and then add the dry oats. Drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper and cool. That’s it.

* * *

When I was about fourteen or fifteen, I learned to make Applesauce Cake and that was super easy as well. It didn’t take any eggs, oil or milk so that made it affordable. All it had in it was applesauce, butter, flour, sugar, baking soda, and cinnamon. If we had walnuts, we’d throw them in but we usually didn’t. You’ve never eaten such a moist cake. And I never put cloves in mine. I hate cloves. Here’s a link if you’d like to make it:

Mama and Daddy like to make homemade taffy as well, but that when we were too young to help and it was really hot to work with. I still remember watching them stand face to face a few feet apart and pull that taffy back and forth.

I didn’t make this back then but I sure do now—Chocolate-Cherry Cake. Oh my dear Lord, it’s good. Just mix together a dry chocolate cake mix, 3 eggs, and a large can of cherry pie filling. Bake and enjoy.

Back in the 1800s they didn’t have many ingredients to work with either. They made a lot more pies then they did cakes for the simple fact that it cost less.

What were or still are your favorite treats?

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Give Me a Sarsaparilla, Please

I don’t know about you but I drink quite a bit through the day. No, I don’t belly up to the bar. I mostly drink water. What can I say? I’m a very boring person. But I have to have a glass of unsweet iced tea with my lunch. Two years ago at my doctor’s urging, I gave up my Diet Dr Pepper. I used to think no day was complete without them. That wasn’t the case at all. It was my crazy brain telling me.

The cowboys in my stories often order a Sarsaparilla in the saloon. In Texas Mail Order Bride, Cooper Thorne always drank them to wash down a fried hand pie. But how common were these drinks?

They bottles didn’t have screw-off caps. Nope, they were corked and had a metal lever on top.

The first marketed soft drinks appeared in the 17th century. I was astounded that they’ve been around so long. In 1676 the Compagnie de Limonadiers of Paris were granted a monopoly to sell lemonade soft drinks. Vendors toted tanks of it on their backs and sold cups of it to thirsty Parisians.

But far earlier in the timeline, enterprising men discovered mineral water, which is the basis for soft drinks, found in natural springs contained bubbles caused by carbon dioxide. People long believed the natural springs held medicinal properties. I guess they figured if it was good enough to bathe in, it was good enough to drink.

In 1832 John Matthews, the Father of American Soda Water, built a carbonating machine. Early soda water was served cold and unflavored. Yuck! Don’t think it’d taste too good.

A few years went by and American pharmacists began adding medicinal and flavorful herbs to unflavored mineral water. Some of the earliest flavorings came from birch bark, dandelion, sarsaparilla, and fruit extracts. The pharmacists began tinkering with the concoctions as a way to get their customers to take the awful tasting medicines of the day. They sold their creations for 5 cents a glass.

In 1835 the first bottled soda water in the U.S. was produced.

In 1866 Vernors Ginger Ale (the oldest soft drink in America) was produced.

In 1876 Root Beer was marketed.

In 1885 Charles Alderton, a pharmacist in Waco, Texas, came up with Dr Pepper.

In 1886 Dr. John Pemberton discovered Coca Cola in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1898 Caleb Bradham added Pepsi Cola to the list of soft drinks.

Vernors Ginger Ale was created pretty much by accident. Pharmacist James Vernor mixed together ginger, vanilla, and a few other ingredients in an oak cask then enlisted to fight in the Civil War. When he returned home and opened the cask, the aging process had created the famous ginger-flavored soda. I’m not a big fan of Ginger Ale. Don’t like the taste particularly.

I believe sarsaparilla was the first soft drink to make it to the Old West and it was served in saloons because of the scarcity of pharmacies (or apothecaries) at the time. Sarsaparilla was used during the Civil War as a treatment for syphilis and was touted as a blood purifier. I’m told it tasted a lot like Root Beer. I don’t know since I’ve never had any.

An interesting side note: Dr Pepper drinkers were urged to consume at 10, 2, and 4—a reminder embossed on early bottles—to prevent energy slumps. Supposedly. But I see it as an excellent marketing strategy. They were able to increase their sales this way. Charles Alderton was no dummy.

For those who might’ve heard that Coca Cola actually contained cocaine in it… says it was true. The two main ingredients were extract of coca leaves and kola nuts. Just how much cocaine was originally in the formula isn’t known, but traces remained in it until 1929.This is hardly surprising though seeing as how it was considered a patent medicine in the beginning.

But once sodas were here, there was a problem with distribution. People wanted it bottled to take home with them. The early bottles had to be blown by mouth. And because the carbonated contents were under immense pressure, they couldn’t find a way to keep it from blowing the corks out of the bottles or preventing the bubbles from escaping. That is until 1892 when William Painter patented his Crown Cork Bottle Seal. It marked the first successful method of keeping the carbonation fresh until opened. After that, the industry really took off like a shot.

And I’m really glad it did. When I grew up in the 50’s, I remember that a nickel would buy a bottle of refreshing Coca Cola. Even though it was so cheap it was a real treat to get one. People didn’t keep them in their refrigerators like they do now. Maybe that’s why they were appreciated a lot more back then.

Another favorite memory was when we used to make our yearly trips to California to visit my grandparents. We’d always stop in Arizona for a bottle of Delaware Punch. That was so good, especially when it nice and cold. I never saw it sold anywhere outside of Arizona though.

Do you have a favorite memory involving soft drinks? Which ones do you prefer? And do you call it a soft drink, pop, soda, or just lump everything together and call it a Coke like we do here?

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