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Elinore, A Woman Homesteader

Our visit to Slaughter Ranch a couple of weeks ago reminded me of a book I read.  I’ve had Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Steward for several years and read it once when I bought it.  If memory serves, Voila Slaughter and Elinore started their western adventure around the same time, 1909.  I hope to find out more about Voila but decide to “visit” Elinore in the meantime.

Letters of a Woman Homesteader is an easy read.  Elinore was self-taught so sometimes her sentence structure and flow are a challenge.  And her letters are written to a former employer who would have understood things like the challenges of a  wood burning stove and references to public figures of the day which weren’t always clear to me.  But overall, I found my time with Elinore interesting and enlightening.

Elinore firmly believed homesteading was the cure a to poverty’s problems.  As a widow, former washwoman and house-cleaner, there is a good foundation for her claim.  She states, “. . ., any woman who can stand her own company, can see the beauty of the sunset, loves growing things, and is willing to put in as much time at careful labor as she does over the washtub, will certainly succeed; will have independence, plenty to eat all the time, and a home of her own in the end.”  Sounds wonderful but my favorite observation made by Elinore was, “Even if improving the place does go slowly, it is that much done to stay done.”  Meaning, unlike the need to repeat to work of washing clothes, making beds, or dusting, once of labor of “proving” a homestead is completed, it will last for a long while.   She is very proud of small two room house and how productive her fields are, boasting of the two tons of potatoes, one ton of carrots, and other produce safely stored in her basement, and it was all accomplished by herself.

Elinore tells some of the most interesting stores and mentions food stuff I would have never have thought possible: canned peach jam, carrot jelly, and beaver tail stew all had me re-reading her writing.  And who knew “bean holes” were so important?  (I think a “bean hole” is another term for the Dutch oven cooking technique where the pot is buried under a layer of hot coals.)

One thing Elinore and I share, and I would assume Voila would agree, is the opinion nothing is more beautiful than the West.  While Elinore experiences are in Wyoming and Voila’s in Arizona, I have had the pleasure of spending time in every western state and can second Elinore’s statement that, “It is grandly beautiful, and at sunrise and sunset the heavens declare His glory.”  (An Easter Sunrise service experienced in the west is a glory to behold.)

It was a pleasure to revisit Elinore and I would recommend anyone with an interest in learning about the western experience read her letters.

Day trip – Slaughter Ranch

Fred and I had been so focused on updates to databases, books, and website we needed a break.  A day trip exploring Slaughter Ranch sounded perfect.

John Slaughter was a most interesting character.  He’s the type of character they write books about and feature in Hollywood’s western movies but he was a real person.  During his life, Slaughter was a confederate soldier, Texas Ranger, Sheriff of Cochise County, founder of Douglas, Arizona, and rancher.

John grew Slaughter Ranch, originally named San Bernardino Ranch, to 100,000-plus acres, running 30,000 head of cattle, at a time when Apache roamed and raided freely.  Established before boundaries were identified, two-thirds of the old ranch is now in Mexico.  Thanks to the Johnson Historical Museum of the Southwest, we enjoyed a trip back in history and a fabulous day away from our computers.  Here are a few of the photographs we took.  Hope they give you an idea of why we enjoyed our time at the Ranch.

Slaughter Ranch house

“Sprawling” is the best description for the Ranch House.

The porch stretches the full length of the house (this photo show the kitchen portion of the porch).  All the windows are floor to ceiling and provide ample light inside but I wondered about the summer months.  Then I realized it was no problem.  The building material is adobe ,which is ideal for the area, and the house is facing south.  That means, in the winter months the sun is lower to the horizon then in the summer.  So, in the winter months the sun shines under the porch roof into the rooms and in the summer, when the sun is higher, the porch provides blessed shade.  Plus there are windows on the north side of the house giving a pleasant cross breeze to cool off the interior.

The Slaughter Ranch was established before there was a Douglas, AZ, radio, television, or automobiles.  (John owned two cars but never learned to drive either one.)  Here are an organ and Victrola from when the Slaughters lived on the Ranch.  I call the “Slaughter’s family entertainment center.”

Even today shopping is a challenge southeast Arizona but imagine what it was like in early  1900s.  In steps the Sears Roebuck catalogue.  This built-in cabinet and fancy glass window were purchased by John Slaughter from that catalog.

Three things that really impressed me about the Slaughter Ranch were: the renovator’s attention to detail; the many old photos showing the Ranch back in the day; and, the lack of indoor plumbing.  This door knob assembly is of the period and in working order.

This little room doubled as a clinic where Voila Slaughter, John’s wife, treated the injuries and ailments of her ranch family, and the bathroom.  Literally, this is the tub they used to bath in.  Note there are no faucets or drain.  FYI: The ranch family numbered more than 100 persons and it was reported 34 loaves of bread were baked each day!

This photo is to give you an idea of the walls’ thickness.  The green door seen through the door way is to the “Cowboy’s Diningroom.”  Here the ranch’s cowboys were served meals which the ate standing up.

Long Horn Steer

Slaughter Ranch may not be at it’s former glory but they do still keep stock.  Here are a few of their Long Horns and there are also flocks of chicken and sheep.

House pond

The reason for the Ranch is water.  This is the “House Pond” built when a dam constructed in the 1890s to hold the water flowing (60 to 100 gallons per minute) from a couple of natural springs.

vermilion flycatcher

Where there is water there will be birds.  There is a serious problem with trying to photograph birds when you have a couple of dogs.  This is the best I could do.  I think this is a male Vermilion Flycatcher.

The Slaughter Ranch house is 600-feet north of the Mexico/US border.  During the civil unrest in Mexico (1910s thru 1920s, if memory serves) unit of the US Cavalry was garrisoned on the Mesa de la Avanzada to watch for attacks from Pancho Villa’s army.  This Mesa is located on the east side of the House Pond.  Ruins such as these are the only indication of the Cavalry’s eleven-year presence.

The Slaughter Ranch – great way to enjoy a Spring day.  Wonder if the library has any books about the Ranch and the personalities that called home?

A No Charge Campground in Colorado

After the negative things I said earlier today about Colorado’s campgrounds, I simply had to mention a discovery made a few hours ago. Like most national forests, the Gunnison has been looking at closing campgrounds as a cost saving measure. One campground, McClure, was supposed to be closed and decommission this year but was saved by the local power company. Gunnison Energy Corporation (GEC) partnered with the Gunnison National Forest and is providing the money to keep McClure open. Basically, GEC ponies up the funds and the Gunnison provides the man-power. Sounds like a good deal but it gets better!!!

A condition GEC asked for and received was that McClure campground would be free to the public! So, if you are near the town of Redstone, CO and in need of a campsite, check out McClure campground.

Thank you Gunnison Energy Corporation for caring.

Good food and a hug

Life’s two best comforts,
    Good food and a hug

This was painted on the wall of a restaurant on the San Juan Islands, in the state of Washington, where Fred and I enjoyed lunch.  The food was good but no hugs offered.  For those we must go to a local Bisbee place called the Bisbee Breakfast Club (a.k.a. BBC).

Co-owners Heather and Pat offer some of the best breakfast fare we have every eaten.  I dare anyone to find something that isn’t yummy on their menu.  Heather works “the front” while Pat is the chef and stays in the kitchen whipping up the regular breakfast and luncheon fare as well as some super special dishes.  FYI: The kitchen is open so customers can see all that is going on and Pat can shout out greetings.

Hugs are available from Heather and anyone of the wait-staff once they get to know you.

My only compliant with the BBC is that word has gotten out and there is always a wait for a table on weekends.  Which means Fred and I try to go only on Thursdays or Mondays.  Oh well, guess its one of the perks of living here .

When any holidays approaches (from Christmas to birthdays), I’m missing our children and grand-children, it’s good to have a place like BBC with Pat and Heather that makes us feel like we are part of their family.

If you ever get to southeast Arizona, Bisbee to be specific, drop in and become part of the family.

Exploring the Neighborhood

A good friend under went some serious surgery and Fred and I want to pay her a visit.  Since the hospital is about 100-miles away from our home, we decided to do more than just drop in for a visit.  We would have a mini-adventure along with checking on our friend.  Cool.  Not on my Exploring the Neighborhood plan but . . .
Tucson Museum of Art
A quick breakfast at the Horseshoe Café in Benson in route to Tucson.  First time eating there.  Fun but not fabulous.

Next stop, Tucson Museum of Art.  Not an impressive building but what surprises inside.  Fred had heard they had an exhibit of Ansel Adams photographs from the Meredith Collection.  The exhibit was of 112 of the 131 Adams thought were his best.

Did you know Ansel Adams was born in San Francisco, California and had considered a career as a concert pianist?  The tour guide said Adams explained taking a photograph was like composing a piece of music and developing that photograph was like interpreting the composition.  Guess he never left his musical training to far away.

Again the guide explained Adams had three concepts he was always trying to apply.  They were: “zone” meaning including as many variation of gray as possible; “abstraction” or have an image suggest something else; and, “visualization” or seeing the final product in his mind’s eye.

Now, I must say Ansel Adams did take some outstanding photographs but, personally, I still prefer Fred’s.

Youthful Mariachi Band

After wandering around Adams photos, we headed out to explore the Museum’s patios and exterior art.  That was fun.  Then we noticed, through an opening in the wall. an old building (remember Tucson was established in 1775) with a sign declaring “Old Town Artisans.”  Off we went and what a treasure rove of wonderful stuff.  Every corner held something beautiful or whimsical or practical.   A quick circuit and we stepped into a courtyard and heard music.  It was loud and happy and Spanish.  We followed the sound to the Presido of Tucson (aka Presidio San Agustin del Tucson) and there was a group of young people, maybe two dozen, all dress in black with silver and gold trim, playing trumpets, guitars, violins, etc., singing with such joy in the shadow of the Presidio’s wall.  It was a Mariachi band!  I have no idea what the words were but we couldn’t help but smile.

Presidio's Soldiers

Apparently, every Saturday, the Tucson Presidio Trust for Historic Preservation puts on a living history display.  Besides the children, there was a priest or monk, a couple of soldiers, a blacksmith, and other characters who would have lived in Presidio back in the 18th century.  It was so much fun.  Next time we go, we’ll bring “the kids” and stay longer.

We were in the “old” section of Tucson and we walked among the old structures.  Most were encircled by five to six foot walls, with orange or lemon trees draped over the top.  Some had flowering vines, with trunks the size of my arm, covering them.  While those home appeared to be much old, this photo is of a new abode.  Located next to the Museum, I think the early 20th century house was intriguing.  Wonder who built it?  Who lived there?  What is its history?  And what about its future?

Part of Tucson’s charm is its murals.  This spider was part of a mural that wrapped around the Museum’s parking lot.  Now that would be a fun adventure – photograph Tucson’s murals.

There was so much more to see, to discover, to explore but we had our friend to visit and wanted to get home before dark.  Well, we did have a nice visit with our friend but it was dark by the time we opened our front door.  A good day filled discoveries, pleasant surprises, and it re-enforce our assumption that if you are ready for adventure, it will find you.

Tip – You don’t have to travel far to find adventure.  Just check the newspaper or ask the locals for what might be going on.  And then get out and start walking.

My Exploring the Neighborhood Plan

YIPPEEE! I survived December and January!  Now it is time to start whipping this body back into shape for our summer’s work schedule.  However, I know myself well enough to realize all work and no play will not get me there.

After a few month in our “stationary home,” during the first couple of weeks in January, my body and my mind are ready to get out and about.  This year the weather just didn’t want to co-operate in January.  By Arizona standard, it was cold with lots of rain and even snow.  It was discouraging.  But it gave me time to do a lot of reading and researching and you wouldn’t believe all the closest cleaning I got done.  (One thing about living in a motorhome for months is you have a better appreciation for your “stuff” and what should be kept.)

This year I’ve developed our “Explore the Neighborhood” plan.  Fred, the “kids”, and I going somewhere for a day during the first and third week of the month (maybe a weekend day or a week day –  that’s one of the advantages of being “retired.”)

One of our favorite activities is hiking/walking.  There is a trail in Bisbee I call it the “Sunside trail” since to follows the sunniest contours of mountains, stretching from top of Laundry Hill to the end Brewer Gulch.  A definite entry in my plan but here are some other entries for my “Explore the Neighborhood” plan:

Parker Lake and the Sonoita wineries
Explore the San Pedro River around Fairbanks, AZ and than down near Palominos
Visit Slaughter Ranch east of Douglas
Amerind Foundation
Visit Forever Home Donkey Rescue
Holy Trinity Monastery in St. David
Fort Bowie National Park
Fort Huachuca Museum

Kief-Joshua Vineyard

That should keep us busy for about five months.  I’m amazed at all I found to do within an hour or two of home and in my own neighborhood.  And my list doesn’t include festivals, gathering, concerts, or special events.  I’ll wager there is an even longer list for your neighborhood.

(Scratch visit to wineries – went, sampled, and bought.  This is the Kief-Joshua vineyards – pretty good.)

Foil Packet Cooking – Campfire dinner

My most recent favorite quick and easy cooking method is using “foil packets.”  There are a bunch of recipes on the web but here are two I’ve used.

Old Faithful Foil Packet Dinner
Take a pork or lamb chop and sear quickly in a very hot dry pan.  Place the seared chop on a square of aluminum foil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Top with a slice of onion, a slice of fruit (pineapple, orange, or apple), and a spoonful of brown sugar.  Fold aluminum foil up into a nice package, leaving some room for steam, and place in a 375 degree (400 degree above 5,000 feet) oven for 20 to 30 minutes or in a 250 degree oven for two hours.  Cut a hole into the packet before serving to allow steam to escape.  Serve with rice and a dark green vegetable.  You can substitute chicken or even a hamburger patty for chop.

Here another “foil packet” recipe I came across the other day.  So easy and taste fabulous.

Unstuffed Italian Chicken Breast
Serves 4
Combine one box of stuffing mix with a can of petite diced tomatoes, a teaspoon of minced garlic and a good pinch of Italian herbs; set aside.  Place one of four (4) boneless chicken breasts in the center of its own aluminum foil square that has been light sprayed with cooking oil.   Top each breast with the tomato/stuffing mixture.  (I press the stuffing firmly onto the chicken so it has a nice “jacket” of yummy bread.)   Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese, maybe some more Italian herbs.  Repeat for remaining breasts.  Fold aluminum foil up into a nice packages, leaving some room for steam, and place in a 375 degree (400 degrees if above 5,000 feet) oven for 30 to 40 minutes.  Cut a hole into the packet before serving to allow steam to escape.  Serve with tossed salad.  (For uncooked leftover stuffing mix with some browned sausage or hamburger and a beaten egg (one per person).  Put in a greased pan, like a cake pan, and top with some cheese, if desired.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for maybe 40 minutes or until a knife, inserted into the center, comes out clean.)

Unstuffed Italian Chicken Breast

Not real pretty but so moist and tender.

IMHO, the best time to use the “foil packet” cooking technique is when camping.  Just toss the packet onto the ashy hot coals and come back in half-an-hour.

Boosting our signal

While in Dickinson, ND, Fred bought a Blackberry phone. It has been a great addition to his communication tool bag. But it didn’t change the fact that we camp in the woods where cell phone signals are very weak or not at all. Enter another essential item–Wilson Electronics, Inc’s SignalBoost.

This device isn’t cheap, and can be a hassle setting up, but it does work amazingly well. We’ll pull into a campsite and have one or two bars on the Blackberry. Fred will plug his Blackberry into the booster and, like magic, we’ll have four or five bars. It has helped us keep up with our email and made life less stressful on several occasions.

However, even if the booster is working at it best, there has to be a cell phone signal for it to booster. Yes, we have been places where the reception doesn’t actually improve. As good as the Booster is it can’t pull a signal where there isn’y one. All in all, so far the Booster is working pretty well but Fred insists “the jury is still out.”

Some things we have learned by our experience:
The booster’s antenna has to be vertical.
The reception is better if the antenna is mounted outside the motorhome. We used the shore power utility box at private campgrounds. In the woods, we were SOL in most cases.
It is good to have communications ;-)

Primer for Pop-up Tent Trailer

After college, our daughter became an avid backpacker. There was a time when, at the drop of a hat, she would head for the mountains near her Montana home and spend several days in a “wilderness” camp. She would love to go camping even now but there are the businesses she and her husband own and operate, and three babies.

They did move from a two-man tent after the first baby to a tiny travel trailer his family used back in the 70s. It’s functional but very small. However, they aren’t ready for a behemoth motorhome or hard-sided travel trailer. A pop-up tent trailer might be a good next step. Here are some points they should consider before making such a move.

Purchase price: Pop-up tent trailers are about half the price of a hard-sided camping trailer. In addition, their relatively small size allows them to fit in a driveway or a garage, which saves RV storage fees.

Towing weight: Many cars, minivans, and small SUVs are rated to tow 3,500 pounds, which is well-suited for the majority of pop-up tent trailers (most are in the 2,800 pound range).

Easy of towing: The low profile of a pop-up tent trailer makes them less susceptible to buffeting from wind and passing trucks. Their weight make them more economical to tow than a solid side travel trailer. And, due to their low weight and wind resistance, pop-up tent trailers can be towed by lower-power vehicles.

Cargo capacity: Pop-up tent trailers are more than just rolling tents. They provide storage space inside for gear and many have space externally accessible when in folded configuration – an important features if your family vehicle is too small for all of your family camping gear. Plus, pop-up tent trailers have hardtops that support racks for bicycles, surfboards, canoes, kayaks, etc., allowing you to take a variety of outdoor toys.

Sleeping capacity: Pop-up tent trailers have large, foldout beds and usually a dinette table that can be converted to a small bed, sleeping five or six in a pinch.

Sleeping comfort: The mattresses you’ll find in a pop-up tent trailer won’t win any awards for comfort, but compared to the cold hard ground, the relatively thin and hard mattresses are a good alternative for many non-outdoorsy spouses.

Ventilation: Pop-up tent trailers have very large mesh panels, surrounding the foldout bunks, providing better airflow than many cabin-style family tents. Their large mesh panels eliminate the closed-in, stuffy feeling and allows air to flow through easily.

Amenities: A basic pop-up tent trailer may have just a sink and a two-burner stove, but higher-end models can have refrigerators, toilets, showers, and even air conditioning. Such flexibility allows you to tailor your camping experience without completely giving up on the outdoor experience that tent camping provides.

Online support community: For advice from other pop-up tent trailer owners, try PopUpPortal.com. There you’ll find a wealth of information from pop-up owners – including tips, tricks, and technical support. Especially useful is their forum.

Disclaimer: I wouldn’t recommend a specific Pop-up Tent Trailer manufacturer but does Jayco advertiSe on forestcamping.com and we see lots of them during our travels.

Tips from one RVer to another

I’m always learning and picking up helpful information from other campers. Here are some tidbits from this year’s travels.

Tennis ball jar opener: Carefully slice a tennis ball in half with a box opener or X-acto knife. Use its rubber lining to grip a stubborn lid as you twist to open.

Lost sock: It seemed like I was forever losing socks. Two solutions – buy only one style and brand of sock (boring!!!) OR, when socks are ready for the clothes hamper, safety pin the pair together. Wash, dry, stow, keeping socks pinned together until you are ready to wear. Haven’t lost a sock this season!

Padlock solution: Need just a little extra security to ensure things don’t walk away from your campsite. Try Wordlock padlock available at target.com. It lets you set your own five-letter combination instead of the usual series of numbers. Brilliant!!!

Easy and Fast Chocolate desserts
Chocolate Panini - Sprinkle one ounce of finely chopped semisweet chocolate over a slice of white bread and top with a second slice of bread. Transfer assembled sandwich to a hot panini press, waffle iron, or iron skillet (add a weight to ensure panini characteristics). Cook until the bread is golden and chocolate is melted. (If using iron skillet, you’ll need to flip once.) Serve hot and gooey.

Chocolate dipped marshmallows – Melt two ounces of semisweet chocolate and dip one half of 12 large marshmallows into the melted goodness. Set dipped marshmallow on a plate or napkin and sprinkle favorite topping (coconut, graham cracker crumbs, chopped nuts, etc.). Give them time to set before serving.

Button bag pill holders – Hitting the road for a week or so and don’t want to bring big prescription bottles. Save the little plastic bags used by garment manufacturers for extra buttons and use them to hold your pills. (I like to sort my daily meds into one bag per day.)

Candle holder – Use a drinking glass, filled about 1/4 to 1/3 way up with sand, as an impromptu candle holder.

Clean and Fresh Microwave – Heat water and several slices of lemon for three minutes in the microwave, then let it sit for three minutes in the microwave. The steam softens food spills and eliminates odors.

Relieve the itch – Apply a piece of banana peel, fresh side down, over the itchy area for a while. Works well on bug bites. Haven’t tried it for itchy skin rash.

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