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It’s How You Take Life. You Don’t Let it Take You. Cowboy Wisdom.

I will be fifty my next birthday. Some days I feel like a kid, some days I feel a little old, but I don’t feel fifty. My daddy used to say age is all in your mind. It’s how you take life. You don’t let it take you.

Connie Reeves is a great example of a woman who defied injuries, financial setbacks, and, yes, age, to spend her life doing what kept her young.

I saw this picture of Constance and just had to learn more about her!

I saw this picture of Constance and just had to learn more about her!

Connie was born in Eagles Pass, Texas, September 26,1901. Her grandfather gave her her first horse. She was 5 and, in that gift her destiny unfolded, though she didn’t know it at the time. Connie wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. In fact, she was one of the first women admitted to the University of Texas at Austin law school.

The Depression derailed her plans to go to law school, though, and she wound up teaching high school P.E., but the position didn’t come with enough challenges. Eager to give her students more than bruises from dodge ball, she started a cheerleading squad. And I mean one with style. According to the Texas State Historical Society, Connie’s girls “wore western-styled uniforms, consisting of blue flannel skirts, a blue bolero jacket, red satin blouse, a pearl grey Stetson hat, and a lasso rope attached by a loop at the waist of their skirt. The name of the squad was the Lassos.” The girls could throw the lassos, too, with impressive skill. They were invited to perform all over the state.

But the Depression dragged on and bills kept coming. For a little extra income, Connie hired out to teach horseback riding with her fiancé Harry Hamilton. This led to her teaching at Camp Waldemar…for the next sixty years. Estimates are she taught over 30,000 girls to ride.

She adored her students and, as it turned, a certain cowboy at the camp. Written like a romance novel, Jack Reeves was the handsome ranch hand who took care of the horses and he wanted to take care of Connie. She said yes in 1942. The two were happily married until his death in 1985.

Her love for horses and the Great American West earned Connie endless recognition and accolades, including induction into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. At the tender age of 100.

Perhaps more impressive, Connie never let a bad horse or fall stand between her and riding. She said she was bucked off a horse at least once for every year she rode. With dauntless determination, she climbed back into the saddle, year after year. Pins in one leg, numerous concussions, and countless broken bones not withstanding. She survived a traumatic riding accident at the age of 92 that required nine days in the hospital. Once healed, she put her foot right back in the stirrup.

connie_book

But, as perhaps is fitting, Connie’s eventual death was the result of a final, fateful ride. On August 5, 2003, she fell off her favorite horse and injured her neck. Connie Reeves rode off into the sunset twelve days later.

I doubt this lady in defiance would have had her death come about in any other way.

 

Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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Say, Where’d You Get Those Bloomers, Amelia?

Suffrage and Temperance? No, no, no. Let’s talk Bloomers!

This was supposed to be better than a dress?

This was supposed to be better than a dress?

In American history, you have women who spied for this country, loaded cannons during heated battles, fought wild Indians, ventured alone to rowdy frontier towns.

And then there is Amelia Bloomer.

A native of New York, Amelia was the first woman to own, edit, and operate a newspaper in the United States. The Lily was started in 1849 for the reading pleasure of the Seneca Falls Ladies Temperance Society. By 1850, the circulation of 4000 had started to decline and Amelia took over the editorial helm. She had found her groove. She loved espousing her views on suffrage, temperance, morality, and fashion.

Married to an attorney who was apparently patient and supportive, Amelia freely championed the cause of suffrage all over the country. She spoke, attended rallies, organized committees, and hung with the likes of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady. If not for her, her newspaper, and her enthusiasm, who knows how long it would have been before we women would have attained the right to vote?

But is that why you know the name Bloomer?

Probably not.

In 1851, a few notable women started wearing loose, baggy pants that gathered at the ankles. The style was based on pants women wore in the Middle East. Amelia fell in love with the roomy, flowing pants. She adored that they allowed one to move so freely, climb steps without tripping, and keep her hands free. Never mind that the things are about as attractive as a clown suit.

But Amelia adored the goofy breeches and pushed them every chance she got. They were frequently mentioned in The Lily, to the point the I-Dream-of-Jeannie breeches finally earned the nickname Bloomers.

Ah, the lasting contribution of a Lady in Defiance.

Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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John Hancock: Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof…Because of His Dolly

By Heather Frey Blanton

 

Dorothy Hancock

Dorothy Hancock

The biggest, baddest, most bold signature on the Declaration of Independence belongs to John Hancock. Said signature is the icon for fearless rebellion and raw treason. Did you know that when Hancock put his name to that paper, he was a newlywed?

No wonder he was feeling froggy.

So who was the lady who stoked the fires of revolution and made John think he was ten feet tall and bulletproof?

Dorothy “Dolly” Quincy was the youngest daughter of Judge Edmund Quincy. Born to a life of privilege and wealth, she was blessed with brains and beauty. She seems to have had numerous pretty sisters and cousins, too. Like flowers for bees, the Quincy home attracted many young men, including Samuel and John Adams, and the wealthy John Hancock. John had recently inherited his uncle’s holdings and was using his newly acquired fortune to establish a path in politics.

An ardent patriot, he found that the Quincy family shared his love of liberty. Dorothy eagerly desired to see the British head back across the pond and leave the colonists alone. It didn’t help that in 1775 an arrest order was issued for her new beau John. The British thought to take him into custody while they commandeered the ammunition supplies at Lexington. Dorothy was in Lexington visiting Lydia Hancock, John’s aunt, and actually witnessed the Battle of Lexington.

Fearing for her safety, John forbade his fiancée to return to Boston. Supposedly her response was something meek and acquiescent, like, “Recollect, Mr. Hancock, I am not under your authority yet. I shall go to my father’s to-morrow.” The fact that this story survives speaks, I think, volumes about the woman. It is rather apropos she heard” the shot heard round the world.”

In any event, Aunt Lydia talked her out of going. The writing was on the wall. Revolution had exploded and America was at war with the largest military power on the planet. John sent Dorothy and his Aunt to stay with the Rev. Thaddeus Burr in Fairfield while he and the other founding fathers decided how to respond to the battles of Lexington and Concord. That summer, in the midst of such deeply important strategizing, he made time to marry Dorothy. The two rebels headed off immediately to Philadelphia.

A year later, as president of the Continental Congress, John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence and officially made himself an enemy of the Crown. Dorothy never second-guessed him. She never asked him to back off. She never asked him to value his fortune or family over the cause of liberty. This country had to be free and they had pledged their lives to it.

Married nearly twenty years, the couple had two children. One died in infancy, the other by the age of eight. Dorothy was by John’s side when he passed away in 1793. She re-married several years later to a friend of the family.

Perhaps she never carried secret intelligence or manned a cannon, but Dorothy Hancock was a loyal wife and valued confidante to her husband. She supported the cause of liberty with boundless passion, and carried herself with admirable dignity, even in in the face of tragedy. Sometimes, keeping your head up and your fist raised is a matter of slow, defiant slogging.

Here’s to another Lady in Defiance.
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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Who Really Wore the Leather Breeches in The Boone Family? Hmmm?

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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rebecca_boone

 

“In order that she may be able to give her hand with dignity, she must be able to stand alone.”

–Margaret Fuller

 

Rebecca Bryan should have known she’d have her hands full with Daniel Boone. According to an account from 1852, the two first met when Daniel was out “shining the eyes” of deer, a process similar to modern-day spotlighting. Only thing was, when Daniel drew down on a pair of shining eyes, they happened to belong to the young, pretty, and very human Rebecca. Mercifully, Daniel missed the shot and, after courting for three years, married her in 1756. Some scholars say they met at a wedding. Knowing what was to come for the Boones, I’d be inclined to believe the hunting story.

Over the next 24 years of their marriage, Becky would be pregnant on average every two to four years, giving birth to 10 children. Because of Daniel’s famous (and probably downright annoying) need to explore, she would relocate her home at least six different times. And due to his wanderlust, she also had to run these homes alone, sometimes for months on end. Perhaps that’s why she headed deep into the wilderness whenever Daniel asked. She loved him. Simple as that.

Because of his predilection for remote areas (or a disdain for neighbors) Becky came to epitomize the famous pioneer spirit. She was known and respected as an accomplished midwife, leather tanner, doctor-of-sorts, marksman, seamstress, you name it, she could do it. And did without much grumbling.

For over a decade, Daniel supported his family in North Carolina by hunting and trapping. The endeavor took him away from home for months and months. It was on one of these trips he discovered the magical land of Kentucky.

Smitten with the area, in 1773, Daniel moved there with his family and fifty or so other settlers. Blood was boiling amongst the Delawares, Shawnees, and Cherokees over white encroachment. Eager to send a clear message, the Indians captured the Boone’s oldest son James and another boy. The two, just teenagers, were tortured to death, slowly, in a most horrific manner for the show of it.

Kentucky, though, had her hooks in Daniel. After a brief retreat to Virginia, The Boone’s returned and he set about helping settle the frontier, and building a country. He also served as a captain in the Colonial Army and a state representative for the Virginia House. Daniel could conquer challenges and seize the day because he knew Becky had his back.

By all accounts, she rarely complained about her hard life. I believe that’s because she had a heart overflowing with love. Many of the Boone’s children stayed close to the couple, living either with them or nearby. Adopted children and numerous grandchildren abounded. At one point, Becky presided over a household of twenty people! She didn’t have time to whine. She was too busy living.

Becky gave birth to her last child at the age of 40. In 1799, she moved with Daniel and several of their children to Missouri and enjoyed many peaceful years there. She went to her final rest at the age of 74. And a well-deserved rest it was.

Beware The Waspish Sting of a Patriot Woman’s Pen

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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mercy

“If I be waspish, best beware my sting.”
William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

If I asked you to name American writers who stirred hearts and passions during the American Revolution, most likely you’d mention Thomas Pain or Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson. Surely, each man made his invaluable contribution to the fight for independence.

Lesser known, though, is the crisp, satirical wit of Mercy Otis Warren. Her plays pricked the pride of pompous Tories and entertained the likes of John and Abigail Adams.

Mercy was a determined woman and I believe she exemplified the kind who struck fear in Cornwallis’ heart. Born to a somewhat wealthy family in England, her father didn’t care to educate her. To most, this would have been a high barrier. To Mercy, it was merely an inconvenience. Focused and self-disciplined, she learned to read by sitting in on her brother’s lessons when she could, and going through his text books on her own. Her perseverance prompted more familial support and an education was provided.

Mercy was quite intelligent, clearly, and a mind like hers was always inquiring. Her family moved to Massachusetts in 1754 and when she married James Warren, found herself surrounded by pro-American voices. Her husband and her brother both were passionately in support of the colonies throwing off the yolk of a tyrant king. Her home was a popular meeting spot for the local revolutionaries and Mercy became lifetime friends with several of our Founding Fathers and their wives.

But standing around serving tea wasn’t all she wanted to do. Mercy knew there was a reason for her quick wit and sharp tongue. So did her husband. She married a remarkably open-minded man who appreciated that she was a gifted writer. James often sent her works to friends, and even submitted some for publication. Mercy’s first play, The Adulateur, was published anonymously in 1772. It unabashedly criticized the lieutenant governors attacks on personal freedoms in Boston. This was the first of several plays that had the indignant Tories throwing their tea cups across the room.

After the war, Mercy wrote a comprehensive history of the Revolution, a book of valuable insights even today. In it, however, she slighted John Adams, or so that is how he took it. His response? He chastised by Mercy by telling her, “History is not the Providence of Ladies.”

It was for this Lady in Defiance.

No, Not a Happy Ending for this Lady in Defiance…or Was it?

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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Cynthia and her daughter Topsannah after their capture in 1861. Cynthia, believing her husband Nocona was dead, had cut her hair per Comanche mourning rituals.

Cynthia and her daughter Topsannah after their capture in 1861. Cynthia, believing her husband Nocona was dead, had cut her hair per Comanche mourning rituals.

I tend to stay away from stories of women that don’t have happy endings. But is it a disservice to ignore the gals who slogged on through life’s hardships, bent but not broken, till God called them home? Honestly, yes. So allow me to introduce you to Cynthia Ann Parker.

At the age nine or ten, Cynthia moved from Illinois with her family to Central Texas. A year or so later, in 1836, she and four others, including her brother John, were kidnapped by Comanches. In the next few years, her fellow captives returned to the White Man’s World, but Cynthia didn’t. Though she had an opportunity to leave with John sometime in the 1840’s, she refused. Cynthia Parker had gone Native and was committed to her Comanche family.

In 1846 federal troops were surprised to discover a blue-eyed white woman living with Comanches along the Canadian River. Naturally, being magnanimous public servants, they sought to “bargain” for Cynthia’s release. The tribal elders refused. Cynthia was again spotted by government officials in the late 1840’s. By this time, though, she had married Chief Peta Nocona and given him three children. She had no intention of going anywhere. Agreeing, Nocona warned the government they wouldn’t take his family without a fight. The government backed off.

Cynthia lived in peace with her family for years after that, but the battles between Comanches and Whites escalated. In 1860, Texas Rangers attacked a hunting party at Mule Creek. Imagine the Rangers surprise when they discovered that pale skin and piercing blue eyes. Taken back to the white man’s world, Cynthia was later recognized by her uncle, Col. Isaac Parker. He relocated her and her baby daughter to Birdville, with a promise that if her sons Quanah and Pecos were found, they would be brought to her.

Cynthia made more than one attempt to “escape” from civilized society, but failed. Eventually, she settled at her sister’s farm, in the vicinity of Palestine, TX. Her daughter Topsana (Prairie Flower) died during this new captivity in 1863 or ‘64. Miserable with this new life and uncomfortable with the national attention, Cynthia faded away and died in 1871. She was only 45 or so. In those last years, she never saw her boys.

Cynthia’s legacy, of course, is her oldest son. Quanah raged against the machine, becoming a great warrior and leader. But we all know how the Indian Wars ended. With the handwriting on the wall, he surrendered in 1875 and helped settle his people on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation, where the US Government appointed him chief. He embraced certain aspects of white culture, learned English, made smart investments, and hunted with President Roosevelt.

Cynthia had given her son the tools for surviving in a white world and Quanah never forget his mother. In 1910, he had her body moved from TX to Oklahoma. A year later, he joined her in the Post Oak Mission Cemetery.

Betsy Ross — She Found the Beauty in the Ashes

besty

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2013 Heather Blanton

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“Sugar and spice and everything nice
That’s what little girls are made of.”

My curiosity about our Founding Mothers has certainly led me to one inarguable conclusion: the above  statement just ain’t so. Our Founding Mothers each had an iron will, the patience of Job, and perseverance and stubbornness enough to shame a mule.

In researching Betsy Ross, I truly came to respect those last two traits.

One of seventeen children and born into a Quaker home, Elizabeth Griscom married her first husband, John Ross, in 1773. The young man she had fallen in love was NOT a Quaker and therefore, the union was not sanctioned. Wisely or not, the couple took the matter into their own hands and eloped. Upon her return, the 21-year-old Betsy was “read out” of her congregation. Clearly not one to curl up like a wilted flower, she instead rolled up her sleeves and helped her husband open an upholstery shop in Philadelphia.

She also supported John’s decision to join the Philadelphia militia in 1775, since their love of liberty was one of the things that had brought them together. Sadly, less than a year later, he was killed in a munitions explosion. The couple had no children. Once again, Betsy rose to the occasion. She squared her shoulders and took over the business. Surely, this fiery widow had to be the talk of Philadelphia. A pretty woman and a patriot running her own business amidst turbulent political times.  It was unheard of.

Not long after the death of her husband in 1776, George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross (her husband’s uncle), made their historic request of Betsy. This is not a legend. History confirms that Betsy and her husband knew George Washington as all three attended Christ Church, plus she had sewn some flags for the Navy, and her husband’s uncle knew George, as well. The couple was married by William Franklin, son of Benjamin, so it’s pretty obvious they moved in the right circles for Betsy to have received this request. Not to mention, she could sew like a fiend.

Whispers down through history have also suggested Betsy may have been the “beautiful young widow” who distracted Carl Von Donop. Donop was the Hessian commander who lost the opportunity to reinforce the troops at Trenton on Dec 26, 1776, allowing George Washington a resounding victory. Quite the morale booster for the Colonial Army. Was it due in part to Betsy?

Besty married again in 1777 to mariner Joseph Ashburn. He was in Betsy’s life long enough to father two children with her. In 1780, his ship was captured by the British and Ashburn was thrown into prison, charged with treason. Not only would Betsy never see him again, but she lost her nine-month old daughter Zilla during this time, while she was pregnant with their second child Eliza.

Betsy had to have been an incredibly strong woman to keep forging ahead the way she did. She never stopped running her business and even managed to sew uniforms for the Colonial Army for several years. In 1783, she married again (this time for the last time). John Claypoole, an old friend of her family, had actually been imprisoned with her husband and was the one who delivered the news of his death.

Prison took the starch out of Claypoole, though, and he suffered from poor health for years. Still, the couple did manage to bless the world with 5 daughters. I think there is some poetic justice in that, considering all that Betsy had been through and lost to the war. Claypoole passed away in 1817 and Betsy ran the family business for another 10 years, before turning it over to her daughters.

Betsy Griscom Ross Ashworth Claypoole lived to be 84 years of age, but, of course, her story is immortal. She was a true lady in defiance!

Putting it All on the … Hem! Elizabeth Poindexter and Her Innocent Needle

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2013 Heather Blanton

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Elizabeth and Thomas Poindexter lived in Yadkin county, North Carolina, eventually having 12 children total. Ardent patriots, when the revolutionary war began Thomas Poindexter served as a captain in charge of a regiment of farmers and shop owners. Talented soldiers, they were critical to the American forces in the skirmishes around the Yadkin River, especially in the battle of Shallowford.

Since Thomas Poindexter was away with the revolutionary forces, Elizabeth was left alone at home with the British in close proximity. To aid the war effort, crafty Elizabeth sewed secret messages and military correspondence into her daughters’ dresses, and then would send them on “errands” right through British lines. She did this throughout the conflict and neither she nor her daughters were ever even questioned.

The rumor was was she was a sweet, pretty thing with such well-behaved daughters that she and her girls were simply above suspicion. Reason for cultivating a positive, lady-like reputation (MIley Cyrus, are you listening?).

After the war, Elizabeth was recognized for her bravery in wartime. Today she is an official hero of the Daughters of the American Revolution and they, as well, have recognized her contribution in the revolutionary war in the North Carolina region.

Keep the needle sharp and respect the lace!grave

Esther Reed — Where June Cleaver Got Her Domestic Goddess Genes?

by Heather Frey Blanton

esther_reed

Esther De Berdt Reed, though born in England, found the cause of liberty trumped ties to homeland and tradition. Perhaps her future husband, American Joseph Reed, had something to do with her fervor. The two met in London in 1763 when he was studying law. True love took its course and they  became engaged, yet Reed left to tend to matters in America. The couple endured a five-year separation. Esther clearly knew her mind and her heart.

The two married and moved to Philadelphia around 1770 when the abuses of the crown were just getting rolling. Joseph worked hard and became a prosperous lawyer. His wife threw wonderful soirees that included the likes of General George Washington. After the battles at Lexington and Concord, though, Joseph was called to serve his country. He rose quickly through the ranks, eventually becoming a general himself.

Esther was left at home to raise six children and manage her household. Prepare to feel inadequate, because she was clearly more than a Philadelphia housewife. Esther not only moved her family out of Philadelphia three separate times to avoid British soldiers and Tory mobs, she also dove full tilt into fundraising for the cause. Using her gifts, connections and time as wisely as possible, she started the Ladies of Philadelphia, a group of women focused on raising money for the American soldiers. Initially they thought to give cash to the troops. Washington gently suggested the money be used to buy clothes. But he left the decision up to Esther.

Before Esther’s death in 1780 at the young age of 34, her group raised a whopping $7000 for the Continental Army and then used the money to buy cloth for shirts. Together, the ladies and their servants then sewed 2000 shirts. June Cleaver would be proud of these gals.

Esther gave all and died no less valiantly than a soldier under cannon fire. She knew what kind of a country she wanted her children to grow up in. One without a pompous king taxing them to death and determining their future. Inspired by Esther’s passion, Sarah Franklin stepped up to take her place and had similar success. Esther Reed was the first woman to be called A Daughter of Liberty. Amen, sister.

Mom Rinker — the Little Ol’ Lady Who Spied for Washington

She sat up there at the top.

She sat up there at the top.

There is a rock in Philadelphia along the Wissahickon Creek made famous by a little old lady who was one of George Washington’s best spies. No blond bombshell who blinded the British with her shocking good looks, she was merely an innocuous-looking little ol’ lady.

One of the complaints against King George listed in the Declaration of Independence was

“…For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us”

Troops could and often did simply move in and take-over a family’s home. Understandably, this didn’t sit well with the property owners who weren’t in favor of the King’s rule in the first place. Molly “Mom” Rinker was one such dissatisfied English subject willing to fight for her independence. She didn’t sit idly by while British soldiers took over her family’s inn and planned their attacks. An older, matronly woman, who would ever suspect her of being a raging patriot and spy?

No one … and she planned to keep it that way. While soldiers banned the male members of her family from the dining area, Mom was kept at hand so she could wait on the redcoats. She waited on them, all right, and made sure to keep jugs of liquor and ale in the dining room so she had fewer excuses for leaving.

Then this clever little Granny-like lady would pass intelligence to Washington’s men. She was never caught; her identity never revealed. So how did she do it?

Each night after gathering her intelligence, she wrote the information on a small piece of paper and wrapped it around a tiny stone. She then wrapped yarn around the stone until she had a normal, mundane looking ball of yarn. Every day, Mom would go to a lovely little spot along her favorite creek and seat herself on a rock. From this rock, she had a pleasant view of the woods.

She would then subtly drop the ball of yarn and watch it roll down the small cliff. One of Washington’s men would retrieve the note and disappear into the brush. No one was ever the wiser. The British never saw her converse with anyone. Granny sat upon her rock and knitted stockings for her beloved Colonial soldiers. She couldn’t be the spy; had to be someone else.

The British never even searched her basket. Probably wouldn’t have found the messages anyway. Not all spying during the American Revolution required complicated cloak-and-dagger techniques. The beauty of this deception was its simplicity, an idea born of wisdom and experience. Talk about a woman who could truly say, “Mom knows best.”

by Heather Frey Blanton

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