Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The First Boot Hill

Often the name Boot Hill is associated with a cemetery in Dodge City, Kansas due to the town’s recognizable history made more notable by the Gunsmoke radio and TV series. However, there are/were many cemeteries named Boot Hill throughout the old west, with the most notable located in Tombstone, Arizona due to famous gunfight. That particular Boot Hill Cemetery was closed five years after the gunfight at the O.K. (Old Kindersley Livery) Corral and became known simply as the old city cemetery which was grossly neglected for years. (The gun fight actually took place in an empty lot six buildings away from the livery, but a 1950 movie set it at the corral so despite accuracy, the corral became marked as the location.)  

These graveyards were spelled either Boothill or Boot Hill, but ultimately had the same meaning—most of the ‘occupants’ had died with their boots and usually violently whether in gun fights, hangings, or some other rough and unnatural death. 

 Deadwood, South Dakota also has a rather famous Boothill Graveyard, so does Tilden, Texas, as does Skagway, Alaska.  Other states that also have/had cemeteries named Boothill include (but not limited to) New Mexico, Iowa, Montana, California, Idaho, Oklahoma, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Nevada, Michigan, and Utah. 

So who had the first Boot Hill? That was Hays, Kansas.  Fort Hays was established in 1867, the same year the Kansas Pacific Railroad planned to lay tracks through central Kansas. William F. Cody, (Buffalo Bill Cody) was a buffalo hunter for the railroad. An enterprising man, Cody partnered with another man named William Rose and founded the settlement of Rome, which quickly grew because of the railroad depot that was promised to arrive soon. A third man wanted in on the deal of creating the settlement, but Cody and Rose refused Webb’s involvement. Unknown to them, Webb had authority from the railroad to established towns for them. 

Webb set the roots of his town, Hays City, a mile east of Rome and on the other side of Big Creek. Trying to hold onto their town, Cody and Rose gave away lots in Rome, but even that failed. Within a year, there was nothing left of Rome and Hays was a bustling city. If they’d built a building in Rome, people moved the entire structure to Hays, including a hotel and general store. By the time the railroad arrived in Hays rather than Rome, over a thousand people lived in Hays. Until five years later, when the railroad built a line to Dodge City, Hays was the point for people from the west and southwest to obtain supplies.  

Hays never became a major cattle market landmark, but did have its heyday. Being an outfitting station for wagon trains following the Smoky Hill Trail, and a railhead, brought people to town in groves, including notorious characters. Structures appeared overnight, and by the dozens. At the first County Commissioners meeting, thirty-seven licenses to sell liquor were granted.
Despite the trials of some to make Hays a reputable community, it soon became one of the deadliest places in the West. Saloons and brothels flourished and the sheer number of desperadoes who placed very little value on human lives marred Hays City’s early days with bloodshed. 

Wild Bill Hickock was hired as a ‘Special Marshal’. The law-abiding town’s people thought Hickock’s reputation of getting the ‘drop’ on his opponents and his deadly aim would protect them from the outlaws overtaking their community. However, Hickock walked his own line, which could be on whatever side of the law he chose at that moment. After he’d killed two soldiers, two civilians, and wounded several others, Hickock, evading military authorities, fled town.    

Many other unsavory characters spent time in Hays, creating mayhem and stepping over dead bodies as they sauntered onward without remorse. The cemetery on the edge of town grew as quickly as the town. Bodies were often buried without ceremony, and considering 45 men were buried with their boots on within the town’s early days, the graveyard was named Boot Hill.  

Many of the enterprising entrepreneurs who’d set up shop in Hays moved on when the railroad expanded. Dodge City inherited many of them along with the cattle drives. Several fires that destroyed entire city blocks calmed some of the rough and wild days of Hays, and the arrival of German settlers also contributed to the change in the city. The Germans were from Russia and brought along winter wheat that flourished in the area. Grain elevators and churches were erected and soon outnumbered the saloons and brothels, making Hays a welcoming community for farmers and families. 

A new cemetery was created, and Boot Hill became nothing more than on overgrown piece of property that wasn’t renowned until Old Fort Hays was turned into a museum in the 1950’s.

My June release takes place in Kansas, in a small fictional town of Oak Grove located along the Smoky Hill River. The Mail Order Brides of Oak Grove is a duet that includes two separate stories of twin sisters Mary and Margaret McCary. It’s also the first in a series of Mail Order Brides who find their happily ever after in Oak Grove. 

Twin sisters say "I do" in the Wild West! 

Mary McCary never wanted to be a mail-order bride, but falling off the Oak Grove train into Steve Putnam's lap changes everything… Could he be the cowboy to tempt her down the aisle?

Running from trouble, Maggie McCary signs up to be a mail-order bride. She doesn't intend to actually marry…until she shares one sensational kiss with Jackson Miller!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Memorial Day Reminiscences

On Memorial Day weekend when I was a child in Minnesota, my parents and I often traveled down to Montgomery, a small town about fifty miles southwest of our home in Minneapolis. My mother grew up on a farm outside of Montgomery and most of her family still lived in the area. Along with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, we attended a memorial service at the Czech National Cemetery a couple miles from town. (Montgomery was and is home to descendants of Czech immigrants.) I remember my mom placing flowers on several graves.
Four Czech descendants: Grandpa Novotny, me with baby son & my mom Sylvia
The service always featured a color guard, probably soldiers from Fort Snelling in Minneapolis. There was a prayer and no doubt a speaker who talked about honoring our war dead. I don’t really remember that part, except that I was expected to stand quiet and be respectful.
As a teenager, I also visited the military cemetery at Fort Snelling with my mom and her cousin Lydia, whose husband was buried there. He died fighting in the Pacific during World War II. By this time, I realized my duty to honor those who fought and died for our country.
Fort Snelling National Cemetery; public domain photo
Decades later, after moving to Texas with my husband and children, I was shocked to learned the local school district did not recognize Memorial Day as a school holiday. Steamed up over this, I called the superintendent and demanded to know why. He informed me that Memorial Day was begun after the Civil War to honor Union dead, and that it wasn’t a Texas holiday. He also gave me a version of “When in Rome do as the Romans do.”
Perhaps you can imagine my reaction. I told him the day was now meant to honor all the nation’s war dead and that I couldn’t believe his attitude. I also happened to know not all of Texas held to such a stance, since my kids had attended schools in a different district the year before, where Memorial Day was an official holiday. I am happy to report it became one the following year in the offending district. Score one for a mad mom!
However, I must thank that officious superintendent for wising me up about the history of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it used to be called. I did not know it originated after the Civil War. I have since researched the topic and would like to share a little of what I learned.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs:
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

“The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

“The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.”
Robert E. Lee mansion pre-1861; public domain
Arlington House c. 1897-1924, from postcard; public domain
The article goes on to mention several places where earlier local observances were held to honor those who died in our nation’s bloodiest war. One occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, just one year after the war ended. A group of women gathered to place flowers on the graves of Confederate soldiers killed in the battle at Shiloh. Noticing the bare graves of Union soldiers, the women also placed flowers on their graves.

“Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried,” the article states.

Memorial Day ceremonies were held on May 30 throughout the nation by the end of the 19th century. After World War I, the day became an occasion to honor those who gave their lives in all American wars. In 1971, Congress designated Memorial Day a national holiday to be observed on the last Monday in May.

Many Southern states also have special days for honoring the Confederate dead. Most are held during the spring, but Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day January 19. Surprisingly, I have never heard the day mentioned on newscasts here in Fort Worth.
Major General John A. Logan statue in Washington, D.C.: Creative Commons Attribution-share Alike 3.0
In 1868, General Logan ordered soldiers’ graves to be decorated “with the choicest flowers of springtime” and urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

About 5,000 people attended the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. A small American flag was placed on each grave — a tradition followed to this day in many cemeteries.
Arlington National Cemetery flags for Memorial Day
The National Moment of Remembrance Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president in December 2000. Under this law, “all Americans are encouraged to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.”


Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and romantic suspense novels, all spiced with paranormal elements. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West  Begins” - with her husband and a gaggle of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.

Amazon author page:
Website:  Lyn Horner’s Corner 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

PAUL BUNYAN: Fact or Fiction? The Answer May Surprise You! by Sarah J. McNeal

Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox 

Most of us have heard of Paul Bunyan from our childhoods. There was that delightful Disney movie about the giant lumberjack and Babe his blue ox and how they made the Rocky Mountains when they wrestled with each other one day. Just like a baseball player sliding into home base, they slide and pushed until they kicked up some dirt. That dirt piled up until they created those big ol’ mountains from their play. It was said one drag of the mighty lumberjack’s massive ax created the Grand Canyon, while the giant footprints of his trusty companion, Babe the Blue Ox, filled with water and became Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.
But here is my question: was Paul Bunyan an exaggerated version of some real man that grew into a legend, or was Paul just a myth someone made up in their head and told often enough around the loggers’ campfires to imprint in the minds of others. He certainly makes for good story telling especially after a hard day’s work.Let’s just start at the beginning of this imaginative story. Legend has it that Paul Bunyan was delivered to his parents in Bangor, Maine by five storks (since he was already too big for one stork to handle). At some point he traveled to the west into Minnesota, Wisconsin, and beyond accompanied by his gigantic companion, Babe, the blue ox. All along the way they had fantastic adventures, made some mountains and created some lakes among other things. Pretty unbelievable I would say.
However, some historians believe Bunyan may have been an actual lumberjack named Fabian Fournier, a French-Canadian timberman who moved south and got a job as foreman of a logging crew in Michigan after the Civil War. At a time when most men were barely five feet tall, Fournier had a six foot frame with huge hands. Fournier went by the nickname “Saginaw Joe.” It was believed he had two complete sets of teeth, which he used to bite off hunks of wooden rails, and in his spare time enjoyed drinking and brawling. One November night in 1875, Fournier was murdered in a notoriously rowdy lumber town of Bay City, Michigan. His death, and the sensational trial of his alleged killer (who was acquitted), fueled tales of Saginaw Joe’s rough-and-tumble life—and his lumbering prowess—in logging camps in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and many others.
The Statues of Paul Bunyan & Babe, the blue ox, in Bemidji, Minnesota
Over time, Fournier’s legend merged with that of another French-Canadian lumberman, Bon Jean. Jean had played a prominent role in the Papineau Rebellion of 1837, when loggers and other working men in St. Eustache, Canada, revolted against the British regime of the newly crowned Queen Victoria. The French pronunciation of Jean’s full name is believed to have evolved into the surname Bunyan.
Like any gathering of fishermen or hunters, the stories grew a little with each retelling. A mythical logging camp was created for Paul as well as a host of loggers to work in the camp. Paul became an inventor, an orator and even a diplomat, all rolled into one. It seemed the more impossible the job became, the more it became a job for Paul Bunyan—the logger who could do it all!
By the late 1880's and early 1890's, the Paul Bunyan Tales had spread to most of the logging camps in North America. Paul had finally reached legendary status, at least in the logging camps. Yet among the general public, Paul Bunyan was almost unheard of.
The first Paul Bunyan story, “Round River,” made it into print in 1906, penned by journalist James MacGillivray for a local newspaper in Oscoda, Michigan. In 1912, MacGillivray collaborated with a poet on a Bunyan-themed poem for American Lumberman magazine, earning Paul Bunyan his first national exposure. Two years later, an ad campaign for Minnesota’s Red River Lumber Company featured the first illustrations of the larger-than-life lumberjack. Combined with pamphlets spinning the tales of his exploits, his prominent appearance as Red River’s mascot would help turn Paul Bunyan into a household name—and an enduring American icon.
                              Disney's Paul Bunyan and Babe
Walt Disney further heightened Paul Bunyan’s fame when he made the animated movie about him back when I was a child. Even now, there is a statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox that stands in Bemidji, Minnesota built in 1937. When my sister did a travel nurse assignment there some years ago, she brought back gifts she bought there. My gift was Christmas ornaments of Paul and Babe.

Whether Paul Bunyan was real or not, I think it’s wonderful to have these legendary characters from our culture who can perform fantastic feats with bravery and kindness.

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Grooms with Honor Series by Linda Hubalek

Grooms with Honor...
What does the phrase make you think of?
Strong men, honorable men, decent characters, always putting their brides first...

Little did I know when I added six sons to the preacher's family in the Brides with Grit series that they'd have their own book series someday.  But it seemed natural to continue life stories on the Kansas prairie with these six brothers, in the prime of their lives, ready to find a help mate.

In each story the woman faces a serious threat, and the man comes to her rescue. Back in the 1800s you had to rely on the help of others rather than the state's or government's help, so I'm sure situations like these women found themselves in were very threatening and real. Hopefully there were men, and communities, to help them out.

Here's the description for Angus' Trust

Angus' Trust by Linda K. Hubalek
A sweet historical romance set in 1886.

Angus Reagan grew up fascinated with trains and has done everything from stoking engines to applying the car brakes. Now, after being a train detective for years, he's thinking about heading home to Clear Creek, Kansas. He misses his family and community.

Daisy Clancy spent her childhood in the family-run café in Clear Creek, Kansas, but she left home to work in a big city when she came of age. Still single and finally lonely for family, Daisy decides to return home and open her own business.

Fate puts the two childhood friends on the same train and sparks of memories cause each to think of their future, maybe even together. But a train robbery sets them on another journey they hadn’t planned on.

This book series, Grooms with Honor, showcases the six sons of Pastor and Kaitlyn Reagan, first featured in the 1873 year-based Brides with Grit series.

"Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, be faithful unto her as long as you both shall live?"

The young men have heard Pastor Reagan say these words to many couples over the years, and they vow to treat all women this way as they walk through life.

Besides the Reagan brothers, the series will feature other men in their community.

(Note: Two Montana Sky Kindle World stories, Nolan's Vow on sale at 99 cents until May 31, and Elof's Mission, enter the Grooms with Honor series setting right before Angus' Trust.)

Thanks for stopping by the Sweethearts of the West Blog. Hopefully I've given you another reason to appreciate the old west...because of their grooms with honor...

Linda Hubalek

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Religion in West Texas — Historic Camp — Paisano Baptist Encampment

"These are hallowed grounds. You'll find God here. Come walk with Him."

This statement can be found on the Paisano Baptist Encampment's website. I was fortunate enough to visit the campground the weekend of April 24-26, 2009 for a writing retreat. Its history intrigued me, so I felt this would be a great topic to share with readers.

Located just outside Alpine on the highway to Marfa, the encampment has been the local gathering ground for a week of renewal and inspiration since 1915. The first attendees slept in tents or in bedrolls on the ground. Meals were served from Army chuck wagons. The picture above is of the cooking staff in 1921.
Meals were eaten under an eating shed, and services and Bible studies were held under a tin-roofed tabernacle. At the first camps, ranchers, families, businessmen, preachers, and worshipers sat around a campfire and discussed expenses. Each gave what they could so that the camp could continue.

In the picture above, also taken in 1921, note that the women and girls wore dresses, and the men dress pants and white shirts.

Eventually families and churches started building cabins. The present tabernacle was built in 1950. At that time water, sewer, and electrical utilities were added, as well as trailer parking areas.

Today an offering is collected at the last service that fully funds the camp. A foundation now helps with expenses outside the budget. A full time manager and assistant oversee camp maintenance. The encampment is also used by other organizations.
The annual encampment takes place in late July. Services begin Sunday evening and end after breakfast the following Saturday morning. Though the encampment is run by the Baptist, individuals and churches from other denominations participate. I've been told that on a warm summer evening, nothing is more beautiful than voices raised in songs of praise echoing through the mountains.

The sign above greets visitors as they enter the encampment. Below is a picture of some of the cabins at the encampment today. Some are very small, others are larger with bedrooms, kitchens, and modern baths.
My husband and I stayed in one of the renovated cabins and were very comfortable. There are very few lights at the encampment, so the star show is magnificent. A flashlight is needed to navigate from one area to the other.

I hope one day to be able to attend one of the gatherings in July.

The vintage pictures above were taken from Information on Paisano Encampment was taken from

Friday, May 12, 2017

‘Remember Goliad!’

The Alamo wasn’t the only massacre during the Texas Revolution.

Presidio la Bahía today. In 1836,
the Texians who died there called it Fort Defiance.
On March 19 and 20, 1836, two weeks after the Alamo fell, Col. James Fannin and a garrison of about 300 Texians engaged a Mexican force more than three times as large on the banks of Coleto Creek outside Goliad, Texas. Without food or water and running low on ammunition, unwilling to run and leave the roughly one-third of his men who were wounded or dead, Fannin surrendered.

Led to believe they were prisoners of war and would be allowed to return to their homes within a couple of weeks, the Texians were marched to Goliad, where they were imprisoned in their former fortress, Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía, which they had christened Fort Defiance. Unbeknownst to the Texians, on December 30 of the previous year the Mexican congress had decreed all armed insurgents were to be executed as pirates.

Diagram of Fort Defiance by Joseph M. Chadwick,
March 1836. Tents mark the location where various
companies camped. Chadwick was among those
executed. The U.S. federal government reprinted
the map in 1856 with the locations of Fannin’s
and Chadwick’s executions marked.
On Palm Sunday, March 27, acting on orders from Mexican President Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Col. José Nicolás de la Portilla separated into three columns the 303 Texians who were well enough to walk. Sandwiched between two rows of Mexican soldiers, the men were marched out of Fort Defiance along three roads. There, they were shot point-blank. Any who survived the fusillade were clubbed or stabbed to death.

Inside the fort, thirty-eight who were wounded too badly to march, were executed by firing squad.

Fannin, 32, was the last to die, after watching the executions of the men who served under him. As the commandant of the garrison, he was allowed a last request. He asked three things: that his possessions be given to his family; that he be shot in the heart, not the head; and that he be given a Christian burial.

The soldiers took his possessions, shot him in the face, and burned his body along with the bodies of the other 341 executed prisoners.

The Goliad massacre galvanized the Texians. Three weeks later, on April 21 — shouting the battle cry “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” — the ragtag Texian army, under the command of Gen. Sam Houston, captured Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto. Disorganized, demoralized, and leaderless, the Mexican army retreated.

Urged to execute Santa Anna as revenge for the depredations at the Alamo and Goliad, Houston decided to let el presidente live. On May 14, Santa Anna ceded Texas to the Texians in the Treaties of Velasco.

Though Goliad was one of the seminal events of the Texas Revolution, more than 100 years would pass before the State of Texas erected a monument to the men who died. In 1936, as part of the Texas Centennial celebration, the state earmarked funds for a memorial. The monument was built over the mass grave of Fannin and his men, and dedicated in 1938. The pink granite marker, bearing the sculpted image of the Goddess of Liberty lifting a fallen soldier in chains, bears the names of the executed Texians and their comrades who died at the Battle of Coleto.

This Monument marks the common grave where the charred remains
of the 342 Texians massacred at Goliad are buried.
Though “Remember the Alamo!” is famous around the world, those with the blood of Texas in their veins still recite, with reverence, the whole battle cry: “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!”

A Texan to the bone, Kathleen Rice Adams spends her days chasing news stories and her nights and weekends shooting it out with Wild West desperadoes. Leave the upstanding, law-abiding heroes to other folks. In Kathleen’s stories, even the good guys wear black hats.

Her short story “The Second-Best Ranger in Texas” won the Peacemaker Award for Best Western Short Fiction. Her novel Prodigal Gun won the EPIC Award for Historical Romance and is the only western historical romance ever to final for a Peacemaker in a book-length category.

Visit her hideout on the web at

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Silence by E. Ayers

At the moment, I'm working on a contemporary story that involves a deaf hero. It should have been a simple story, but it evolved into something much larger. So what does contemporary have to do with historical? Well, lots of things and nothing. Maybe it's what my brain does with information. Curiosity got me, and I started studying the history of deafness and Deaf schooling to see what once was and how it became what it is today.
Sign language has existed forever! The Deaf have congregated and formed communities since almost the beginning of time. Schools for the Deaf have existed for several hundred years in Europe. They were established to teach Deaf children so that their souls could be saved, which was the main reason for all schooling back then. Soon it became obvious that the Deaf could learn anything. They only needed the opportunity to be educated.
In the seventeen hundreds, a French priest, Abbe Charles Michel de L’Epee, observed two children using sign language to communicate. He then realized there were about 200 people in Paris who used very similar signs. If they could communicate, then they could be taught the Bible. He established the first public school for the Deaf. Translated to English, the school's name was the National Institute for Deaf-Mutes. As children came from all over France, he began to realize the need to create a standardized manual system for them. And he created the langage de signes méthodiques. Today that is referred to as Old French Sign Language. He didn't invent it. He merely shaped it. His methods for teaching the Deaf by using their manual language spread across Europe. (Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris still exists, but its name has changed slightly over the years.)
In the United States, it was observed that deafness tended to be prevalent in certain areas. Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts was one such area. It is believed that some of the first settlers of that area in the 1690's were deaf. In a time when people lived, worked, played, and married within an area, there was barely a family there that was not affected by deafness. They all communicated using a sign language that evolved within the community. And being that they all "spoke" that sign language, no one ever saw a difference between the hearing and the non-hearing population. It was never considered a disability or in any way looked upon as different or a problem.
Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet graduated from Yale and went on to a seminary with the idea of becoming a minister. After his ordainment, he met Alice Cogswell the deaf child of a neighbor. While watching her play, he decided he wanted to teach her. Her father Dr. Mason Cogswell, offered to send Gallaudet to Europe to learn how the schools there were teaching the Deaf. The short version of a long story is in Paris, France, Gallaudet met Laurent Clerc, a teacher at that famous school for the Deaf. Gallaudet convinced the man to come to the United States and teach our Deaf students.
It took awhile to raise the necessary funds to create a school, but in 1816, they did, and within a year the school was founded. Little Alice Cogswell was one of the first seven students at the
Connecticut Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb courtesy of  American School for the Deaf

Connecticut Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, later to be renamed the American School for the Deaf (ASD). It is the oldest continuous school for the Deaf in the USA. The next fifty years saw quite a few schools for the Deaf established. Including what has now come to be known as Gallaudet University in the Washington, DC area. When it was founded in 1856, Gallaudet's son, Edward Miner Gallaudet became the school's first superintendent. (Cobbs School in Virginia was the first school formed for the Deaf, but closed its doors almost immediately.)
Deafness is a genetic roulette that has yet to be decoded. There are numerous genes and mutated genes known to cause deafness. Most children who are born deaf come from hearing parents. And many more will lose their hearing as a result of injuries, etc. So what happened in the 1800's when a child was born deaf or became deaf in a remote area of our west?
Life was pretty bleak for such a child. The majority of the families populating our west were trying to eek out a living. They couldn't afford to send a child off to a Deaf school in some big city. Chances are the local schoolteacher or schoolmarm had no clue how to teach a deaf child. So the child stayed home and watched siblings go to school. They learned to do basic chores, and in general, survive. Unfortunately if they couldn't hear, they probably never learned to speak. But the odds were the child could have spoken if he or she had been taught.
For many settlers of our west, schools and schooling didn’t exist. Lucky were the children born to educated parents who taught their children to read, write, and do simple arithmetic. It was more important for them to learn how to mend a fence, plow a field, birth a foal, or fix a meal beyond a can of beans. Today we think nothing of a school that contains 1000 or more students, but in the 1860’s,Wyoming Territory’s entire population was barely 2000 people. Even bringing in someone to teach was a huge financial responsibility. In small towns lucky enough to maintain an educated minister, that man usually functioned as a teacher, and an undertaker. A school might consist of four to ten students depending on the local population. Chances are that teacher never saw a deaf student.
So the odds are there that the Wyoming Territory and other such places contained some Deaf, but there were no records I could find of a community of Deaf or even people who were deaf within the general population. (That doesn't mean they didn't exist.) In an area where the survival of that child might depend on the child's ability to hear, and the number of children who died as a result of accidents, or diseases or fevers that today are treatable or all together prevented, it's almost impossible to discover if any Deaf children existed in our untamed west. Especially when anyone different was hidden. Such a child probably would have brought shame upon the family. It leaves me pondering those magical what-if questions that roam through the heads of authors.
But what if… And what sort of teaching might that child have if that child would be lucky enough to receive any? And if that child were sent away, which school would he or she attend?
The Alphabet & Numbers Used for Fingerspelling
Using one's hands to speak was considered animalistic. That gave rise to Oralism in the Deaf schools. The push was for these children to communicate verbally to the point that they were punished for using their hands to communicate. The Connecticut school and its "little sibling" Gallaudet, in Washington, D.C., stressed the use of all means to communicate and advocated American Sign Language, which is considered to be Manualism. Many well-known people, such as Alexander Graham Bell, were opposed Manualism as it seemed primitive. Schools that used Oralism sprang up in several major cities.
Would a child educated in one of the Deaf schools return to the west? Would the child be accepted? Or would that child grow up and stay within the Deaf community of school friends? What future did that child have, especially a female in the west? These are just a few of the questions that have run through my mind.
It would take until 1960's before American Sign Language was a respected language. We've come a long way since those first few schools. Deafness is random and no different than having jade-green eyes or platinum blonde hair. It's taken us many years to understand that.
And in case you are wondering… Yes, Deaf with a capitol D, the same as German or French. The Deaf have their own identity and take pride in their deafness. They are a unique and often close-knit group, but also a very eclectic group. When referring to deafness as a medical term, the lower-case d is used with the word deaf.
Do you know American Sign Language (ASL)? Or do you at least have the ability to fingerspell? Is there someone you know who is Deaf?