Last week I shared half a dozen things I learned while researching the story series Big Sky Country. The second book—Montana Cowboy Family—is out this month.

Montana Cowboy Family

Today, I want to share another half dozen things I learned.

1. The area is beautiful which I already knew but it bears repeating.

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2. There are old-growth cedars of up to 500 years—the Ross Creek Cedars.

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3. David Thompson mapped the area. What an incredible man he was.

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montana research trip July 1134. Gold brought people to the area. In 1864, 1000 men were each panning $20-$30 from Wild Horse Creek. Fine gold was valued at $18/oz. but it was the wealth of trees that kept them there.


montana research trip July 2175. There is a library well stocked with books on local history.

montana research trip July 0466. The lake created by the Libby Dam  is called Lake Koocanusa.


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The name is a combination of the names Kootenai, Canada and United States and crossed the Canada-American border. montana research trip July 042


The Koocanusa Bridge, Montana’s longest (2,437 feet) and highest (270 feet) bridge crosses the lake.



I really enjoy researching. It makes me look at places I visit with more interest. Do you dig deep into an area when you visit it? What is your favorite discovery?

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Seeing as this is the first day of 2017 I suppose I should say something about what I learned in 2016, but frankly, I’m ready to forget about the old year and move forward in the new.

That said, I turn my attention back to my writing. Montana Cowboy Family (book 2 of Big Sky Country series) will be released in stores in a few days. I think those who have a subscription to the series already have copies. I thought I would share a few things I learned while researching for these stories.

1. Some people have too many hats.

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2. The town of Libby, Montana loves eagles. There are at least 25 sculptures scattered throughout the town. ‘The Eagles of Libby are iron and steel eagle sculptures of various sizes ranging from a 6 ft. wing span to several over 25 ft. wing tip to wing tip. A while back the local [art] teacher started making these beautiful sculptures. The town purchased them and began displaying them all over town. It didn’t hurt that the mayor at the time was the teacher’s brother. ‘ (See more at: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/24350#sthash.yLfcCpkN.dpuf

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3. I love old things

 montana research trip July 096 but prefer to live with modern conveniences.

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4. The Kootenay Falls formed a sort of barrier between the Upper and Lower Kootenay bands and are revered by the Kootenay people.

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5. Transportation between Montana and Fort Steele, BC was conducted on the river.

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6. The trail to the falls is not wheelchair accessible. Yes, I took the wheelchair guy with me.

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It’s nice to look at these pictures and remember all the wonderful things I saw and learned.

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I am reading a book about travels on the Santa Fe Trail. (My copy is from the library and is plain brown.)

Land of Enchantment: Memoirs of Marian Russell Along The Santa Fé Trail by [Russell, Marion Sloan]

Often  research involves ploughing through dry text. But not so in this book. The writer has a way of making the scene come alive.

I will share a couple of examples: ‘…the deer and the antelope bounded away from us. There were miles and miles of buffalo grass, blue lagoons and blood-red sunsets, and once in a while, a little sod house on the lonely prairie—home of some hunter or trapper.’

And this: ‘Sometimes one of the mules would start a great braying, and the other would take it up making the night hideous.’

The narrator was but a child of 7 on her first trip along the Santa Fe Trail. ‘Maid Marian,” as she was known by the freighters and soldiers, made five round-trip crossing of the trail before settling down to live her adult life along its deeply rutted traces.’

As you might suspect from the topic of this book, I am researching for what I hope will be 6 books set along the Santa Fe Trail.

In the meantime, I have a new cover. this book is due out in April and is part of a continuity (three books written by three different authors). It is set in Texas so required I do research for that book as well.

the rancher's surprise triplets

How important do you think research is to the writing of historical books?

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What strange weather. A cold, wet October and yes, there was snow. Thank goodness it didn’t stay. Then an unseasonably warm November that saw the farmers working long hours to get their crops harvested.

And now we have December. And snow. The snow is beautiful but must it be followed by an artic vortex that refuses to move?

I must be getting used to the cold. I bundle up and go for a walk every day. When there isn’t a wind I find it quite enjoyable. Beautiful even.

frosty winter

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Now for a game of what is it? Look at the picture below and tell me what you think caused that pattern on the railing. I’ll post an answer tomorrow.

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I confess there are things I enjoy about winter and walking in the cold or falling snow is one of them. How do you feel about going out in the cold? And has the arctic vortex reached your area yet? (I understand it is to go right down North America before it bids us adieu.)

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Christmas 09 057

I wanted to tell you a story about long ago Christmases. Perhaps find pictures of the season in my parents’ collection of photos. I found nothing. I’m beginning to think their idea of Christmas was much simpler than ours. My father told me there were few gifts. He was the youngest by several years and what he remembers is his older siblings coming home and how one sister made the best fudge. Her reputation was known among the neighbors.

Perhaps we need to get back to a simpler way of celebrating the season…at least, that is my feeling. So my goal for this year is simple but thoughtful. Less presents. More quality time.

Are you doing anything different this year? Celebrating more? Maintaining certain customs? Making changes?

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I had occasion this week to see where my grandparents used to live. They’ve been gone many years but as I was in the neighborhood, I wanted to see if the house was still there and what memories I’d have of the place.

The house was gone, replaced by a new one. Yet many old homes still stood. The street was narrow, as I remembered, the houses close together. A quiet, sedate neighborhood.

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Yes, there were memories like a boy coming to see us as we played in the yard. I don’t know if he lived there or was visiting as we were but he was all too happy to show us his brass knuckles and tell us how dangerous he was. I tended to believe him but then I was from a small town where we had never encountered anything like that.

Then there was the time an ambulance screamed up and stopped across the street. The attendants rushed inside and brought a man out on a stretcher. We had never before seen an ambulance in real life. How shivery exciting for three young kids.

My grandmother was small and constantly fussing. My grandfather was tall and quiet. My aunt lived with them and took care of them. She had the husky voice of a smoker. They had a yellow canary who, once he got over the shock of seeing children, sang. As I recall, their front room was crowded with furniture including a china cupboard full of knickknacks.

Below is a picture of their wedding day in 1890, another of them in front of their home in Kansas and the final one is the celebration of their 60th anniversary.

grant and minnie mumert, wedding Nov. 26, 1890grant, minnie, dora, myrtle, leslie, Tonganoxie, Kan, 1904grant and minnie mumert's 50th anniversary

I was disappointed that the house in the city was gone but the memories remain of the long, long drive to where they lived. We crossed several rivers and drove through woods.

Now I’m the grandmother and the kids come to see me. I don’t have a canary but I do have a parrot who loves to dance with the kids. And the grandchildren can run and play with abandon on our farm.

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Funny how things have gone full circle—small town kids visiting in the city to city (big town) kids visiting on the farm.

I hope my ramblings have brought you warm memories of your grandparents. Do you have one special memory?

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My stories often have children in them so I am often challenged to find toys for them. I’ve visited countless museums and have thousands of pictures taken at them but if one were to judge the abundance of toys (or rather lack of) by how many displays there are of toys, I’d have to conclude there weren’t a lot of toys. It would seem that children of the 1800s relied heavily on their imaginations, their siblings and pets or farm animals for entertainment.

There has always been dolls. Both commercially made and homemade.

irricana museum July 28 019 montana research trip July 098 The doll on the left is a topsy-turvy doll. The child turned it upside down to reveal another doll.


There were carriages for the dolls.

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There has been marbles, and board games. And of course, books. (see marble game and books on coffee table)

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Sometimes the child was fortunate enough to have a wooden horse or a wagon.

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Wealthier families might have a stereoscope what would be used with adult supervision.

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Mothers and fathers often created toys for the children. Mother’s made dolls and animals from socks, clothes pegs or scraps of fabric. Fathers carved little animals. And swings hung from trees have always been popular. We have a play structure in our yard and two swings hanging from the tree. Guess which is the most used.

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One of the problems I encounter in museums is the lack of circa dates. I really appreciate it when the displays are clearly marked.

 doll info

I’m wondering if any of you have discovered information about the toys pioneer children would enjoy.

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It’s time to renew my passport. I have gone so many places with the current one (though not as many as I’d like).

It’s probably no surprise that one of my favorite things about travel is visiting museums and I thought I would give you a little sample of the many I’ve seen.

A nearby museum and one of the rooms. I’ve actually used this room as a model for a house in one of my stories.

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North to Alaska. At least Whitehorse, Yukon. We visited lots of museums. The tour of the paddle wheeler was great. The first class lounge was aA stark contrast to where the economy class passengers spent their time. They were not allowed on the upper decks.

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Display at Whitehorse museum where we also saw a cabin where Robert Service lived.

A trip on the famous Whitepass Railway.


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Museums to the south—Colorado: Lots of great museums. And Bents Old Fort. Did you notice the three dollar bill?

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Last but not least—Hawaii. Yes, even in Hawaii I visit museums. Whaling and protestant missionaries made a  big impact on the islands.

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In 1898 the Hawaii flag to the left was lowered and replaced with the American flag when Hawaii became a territory of the USA.

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Do you visit museums? What is your favorite past of doing so and have you made a surprising discovery?

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It’s been a week with unexpected surprises. Several times I’ve felt like Johnny Appleseed.

Oh, the Lord is good to me.
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need:
The sun and the rain and the apple seed;
The Lord is good to me.

We had a record of the Johnny Appleseed story that the kids loved. Is that old school or what? Check out the YouTube version


We had snow in October and before that, wet weather. So although the crops here are good, they lay in damp fields with little hope of getting them off. We’re talking about farmers losing a year’s income but still having huge input costs to pay. But now, in November, we are having dry weather with lots of sun and wind to dry out the crops. It’s wonderful to see the combines going and dust hanging in the air from harvesting.

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I’ve had some wonderful news as well. I can’t share the details just yet but watch for upcoming announcements. In the meantime, I will enjoy it on my own.

Plus we got the lift fixed on the handicap-equipped van so I can finally take my client places.

Don’t we sometimes forget to count our blessings even though we have so many of them?


Care to share some of your blessings this week?

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This week I got a box of books—Montana Cowboy Family—Book #2 in Big Sky Cowboys series. For fun, click on the link and make a jigsaw puzzle of the cover. It comes out in Jan. The story of Sadie, the school teacher, and the youngest Marshall brother, Logan.



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