Old West/Frontier Timeline for Writers (19th Century)

Historical fiction can be a delight or doozy, depending on how you look at it.  Much of my ghostwriting work has been in this genre, and I find myself spending a lot of time checking facts to make sure I get things right.  To save both myself (and you!) some time, I’ve started this timeline of the 1800s in America.  It will include anything I come across that’s relevant to life in America, even if it’s an invention or publication in another country so your characters will have some news to talk about.  This timeline works well for writers working with frontier and pioneer life, mail order bride stories, westerns, and more.  Each link will open in a new tab so you can explore a little more but still come back easily.  I’ll be updating it regularly, so be sure to check back!

Have an event you’d like to see on the timeline?  Just leave me a comment!

 

1814

British troops burn the White House during the War of 1812 (August 24)

1818

-Illinois becomes a state (Dec 3)

1820

Washington Irving publishes “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in a collection of short stories entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.  They’re considered the first American short stories.

1821

-Missouri becomes a state (August 10)

1825

a patent for tinning sardines in America was granted to Thomas Kensett.  The food had originally been invented in 1810 to help feed Bonaparte’s troops.

1834

Fort Boise (Idaho Territory) is established

1837

the Daguerrotype is invented in France  (the first made in the U.S. were in 1839)

1841

-Dallas, TX is founded

1843

Charles Dickens publishes A Christmas Carol (Dec 19)

1848

James Wilson Marshall discovers gold near Coloma, California, sparking the gold rush of 1849

Elizabeth Blackwell is the first woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree (Jan 23)

the Mexican-American War ends with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

1850

-California becomes a state (September 9)

1851

-the Australian Gold Rush begins (Feb 12)

Moby Dick (Herman Melville) is published

1854

copper is discovered in Arizona

the Nebraska Territory is established

1856

-Dallas, TX is officially incorporated

1860

the first schoolhouse in Colorado is built in Boulder

1861

the Territory of Colorado is established (February)

-the Civil War begins (April 12)

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow publishes “Paul Revere’s Ride”

1862

The Homestead Act is signed into law by President Lincoln, allowing Americans to claim 160-acre plots of public land (May 20)

1864

Montana becomes a territory

Jules Verne publishes A Journey to the Centre of the Earth

1865

-the Civil War ends (May 9)

1867

Nebraska becomes a state (March 1)

Lincoln is chosen as the capital of Nebraska (territorial capital was Omaha)

1869

the transcontinental railroad is completed in Promontory, Utah (May 10)

Jules Verne publishes 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (translated to English in 1873)

1871

the city of Boulder, Colorado (formerly Boulder City) is incorporated

1872

Jules Verne publishes Around the World in Eighty Days

1876

-Colorado is admitted to the Union as the 38th state (August 1)

1877

-The University of Colorado in Boulder opens (September)

-The American Museum of Natural History opens in New York

1882

Buffalo Bill Cody starts “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” show

-Northern Pacific railroad completed in Idaho

1889

Pocatello, Idaho is founded

Montana becomes a state (November 8)

1890

Idaho becomes a state (July 3)

-Wyoming becomes a state (July 10)

1893

Colorado becomes the second state to allow women the right to vote

1912

Arizona becomes a state (February 14)

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois. She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University. Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside Detective. Her short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous. Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world. You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

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Character Quirks

Quirks are handy when creating characters and may even help advance the plot. Note these aren’t necessarily bad or good things about a person, but they’re fun traits that not everyone will share. Although it’s by no means exhaustive, here’s a list of quirks you may find helpful while creating your characters. (Looking for more on writing? Visit my Writers’ Resources page.)

  • presses her lips together when she’s angry
  • sticks the tip of his tongue out of the corner of his mouth while he’s working on something
  • picks up rocks and throws them as she’s walking
  • can’t stand to eat a certain food, i.e. always picks tomatoes out of his salad
  • doesn’t like pets or animals of any kind
  • constantly corrects people, either on their grammar or their pronunciations
  • trails her fingers on plants, books, whatever is at hand as she walks
  • has trouble sleeping at night
  • constantly lies, even though she’s terrible at it
  • always has his nose in a book
  • constantly washes her hands
  • afraid to travel
  • hates confrontation so much she won’t stand up for herself, even when she’s right
  • really into science fiction, and it is a part of his life
  • won’t go anywhere without her dog
  • likes to blame everyone else for his problems
  • is neat and presentable, but her house is an absolute wreck
  • insists that his clothes be folded a certain way, but he won’t do his own laundry
  • refuses to take her husband’s last name
  • won’t drink out of a can or bottle, and has to pour it into a glass first
  • chews ice
  • always falls asleep with the TV on
  • talks in her sleep
  • thinks he’s an expert on everything
  • bad with money
  • talks to her dogs like they’re people
  • terrified of animals (or a certain kind of animal)
  • drinks a lot but functions
  • always reads subtitles even when he can understand the dialog
  • must be busy while on the phone
  • gestures with hands while talking, even if on the phone
  • always carries his own pen and refuses to use anyone else’s
  • constantly listening to music
  • drums her fingers on the counter when waiting
  • absolutely refuses to leave the house without full makeup and hair
  • despises coffee
  • obsessed with coffee
  • obsessed with eating healthy and drives everyone else nuts with it
  • obsessed with environmentally healthy products
  • always trying to sell you something (party products like Avon and Pampered chef, handmade crafts, or even a used car)
  • has kept all the porcelain dolls her mother collected
  • literally lives in a fantasy world (cosplay, D&D, etc.)
  • convinced she’s adopted
  • feels Christmas must be exactly perfect or else it’s a disaster
  • is an extreme couponer and hoards pantry and cleaning items simply because she got them cheap
  • always cold (needs blankets, socks, mitten, sweaters)
  • quit smoking and now constantly chews gum or has a toothpick in his mouth
  • always apologizes (could relate to past trauma)
  • constantly knitting things for people, even if they don’t want them
  • loves speaking with an English accent and/or using British terms, even though she’s American
  • loves British television (and thus the accent?)
  • believes in crystal healing and is constantly giving her friends stones that she believes will help them
  • hypochondriac
  • signs up for volunteer positions but never follows through with them
  • loves spending time in nature and is always outside
  • loves fountain pens and ink (this person is likely to have ink on their fingers)
  • still gets up to watch cartoons on Saturday morning
  • insists on having a perfectly clean house all the time
  • abstains from drinking any alcohol, ever (perhaps a victim of alcoholism in some way)
  • always has a book with her
  • waves at anyone who happens to drive by

This is just a handful of suggestions, but it was also a great writing exercise. What quirks have you used or seen in fiction that you think are great? Or terrible? Let me know in the comments! Please be sure to check out my Writers’ Resources page for more ideas, lists, and information on writing.

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois. She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University. Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside Detective. Her short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous. Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world. You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

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Book Review: The Penny Pinchers Club by Sarah Strohmeyer

I expected a light and quick book, but The Penny Pinchers Club really made me think about how money impacts our lives.

From the Cover: Living in suburban New Jersey, Kat has a pretty serious retail habit. Now it looks like her husband Griff is having an affair…and setting up a secret bank account in preparation for a divorce. Suspecting her spending habits may be driving him away, Kat’s determined to save her marriage by saving some money. But when her rich ex-fiancé turns up with a tempting bargain, she’ll have to decide whether love conquers mall…

What I Loved:  The Penny Pinchers Club was better written than I’d expected, with very real characters, backstory, description, depth, and some funny scenes that literally made me laugh out loud.

The story follows Kat as she struggles to save up enough money to afford an attorney when her husband finally decides to leave her.  It puts her in some precarious positions, forces her to learn about couponing and cutting back, and makes her really think about her relationship (both with money and with her husband).

Honestly, this book reminded me about couponing for myself.  I used to do a lot of it back when you could actually clip coupons from the Sunday paper.  Everything’s digital now, and it’s a whole new world that I’m diving back into!

What I Didn’t Love As Much:  I don’t believe in including spoilers in book reviews, so let’s just say I didn’t like the way it ended.  It wasn’t what I wanted for Kat.

Rating and Recommendation:  If you want a fun read that might even inspire you to pinch a few of your own pennies, then The Penny Pinchers Cluis for you!  4 stars.

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois. She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University. Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside Detective. Her short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous. Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world. You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

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Thinking of a Veteran I Don’t Know

There are plenty of veterans I could write about today, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about one in particular.

When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to take a few college classes for free during the summer.  My speech class had kids my age, college students, and one older guy who always sat off by himself.  His age made him more of an outsider than his scruffy hair and old clothes.

We had to do that lovely introduction thing teachers make you do, and though I don’t remember his name I do remember that he was a Vietnam veteran.  Most of us didn’t particularly enjoy getting up to talk in front of the crowd, but it was especially hard for him.  He’d freeze up and have to sit down, even though his speeches were interesting and well-prepared.

The one moment where he really shone was his demonstration speech.  This guy was amazing with jewelry, making beautiful glass beads and wrapping them in twisted wire to create gorgeous pendants.  He had the whole class crowded around a big table while he worked.  He was in his element, and he was so proud when he was done.  He gave a few of us the pendants he’d made, and I wore it all the time.

On his next speech, he froze up again.  I could see how much it bothered him, and when I saw him outside I tried to encourage him.  Now, I don’t see how a fifteen-year-old girl could possibly help a full grown man.  It seemed right at the time, and I can only hope that he wasn’t offended.

But he never came to class again.

I still don’t know his name.  At the time, I didn’t understand anything about PTSD or what it would be like to go back to school when you’re twice the age of everyone else there.  Every now and then, he pops in my mind and I wonder what happened to him after that last unfinished speech.

And while I doubt he’d ever possibly read this, I hope he does and knows that someone is thinking about him on Veterans Day. (And I still have that pendant twenty years later!)

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois. She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University. Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside Detective. Her short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous. Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world. You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

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Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

I didn’t know I was looking for a story that combined my love of sci-fi shows and sci-fi books, but I found it anyway in Redshirts.

From the Cover:  

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expendedon avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

What I Loved:  Redshirts begins with a humorous dedication and then dives head-first into a prologue that immediately pulls you into the storyline.  This book is written with a humorous and casual tone, even though there are lives on the line.  It’s a much lighter read than pretty much any other science fiction book you could pick up, even though it involves alternate dimensions, time travel, and other typical sci-fi problems.  There are constant plot twists and one hilarious fourth-wall break that I made my husband listen to me read out loud because I had to share it with someone.  This story is character and plot driven without a lot of extraneous descriptions, which works really well for it.

One of my favorite quotes:  But then he tripped and one of the land worms ate his face and he died anyway.

As I said, I didn’t go looking for this book specifically.  We spend a lot of time at the library, and I just happened to wander through the sci-fi section on our way out.  Being a fan of Star Trek, I just had to get it.  Absolutely worth it.

What I Didn’t Love So Much:  There’s really nothing to write here.  Redshirts is unique and entertaining.  Once the main characters get their problem solved, the books goes on to show how the original story affected other characters along the way.  It’s fantastic.

Rating and Review:  If you like science fiction with a bit of humor, and if you don’t demand all the tiny details about how space travel or time travel work, and if you know what a redshirt is, then Redshirts is absolutely for you.  5 stars.

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Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Yep.  I couldn’t help myself.  Another Neil Gaiman.  I told you after Neverwhere that I was addicted.  I wasn’t kidding, and I’ve got very good reason to be addicted.

This is a story about a man who returns to his hometown for a funeral and reflects on the strange things that happened when he was just seven years old.  A man’s suicide caused a series of dark and terrifying events.  Lettie, the mysterious and magical girl down the road, protects the boy in ways he still doesn’t fully understand.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a slim little volume that goes quickly, but I have the distinct feeling it would pass by quickly anyway.  It’s vivid and spellbinding.  Gaiman has a way of describing things that’s utterly simple and yet so thorough, whether it be a physical description or conveying how a character feels.

Something came through the woods above our heads.  I glanced up, saw something brown and furry, but flat, like a huge rug, flapping and curling at the edges, and, at the front of the rug, a mouth, filled with dozens of tiny sharp teeth, facing down.

It flapped and floated above us, and then it was gone.

“What was that?” I asked, my heart pounding so hard in my chest that I did not know if I would be able to stand again.

“Manta wolf,” said Lettie.

Throughout the entire book, I felt as though there was something so much bigger than myself, much bigger than any of us, something we could only know as children but have forgotten because of this terrible thing called growing up, and that maybe growing up was just our coping mechanism to help us deal with all the things we actually once knew.

At the end, as the main character is reflecting on his childhood memories and isn’t certain that he remembers it all correctly, I get the impression that this book is all about the way our memories work and how they change over time.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane gets five stars only because there aren’t any more to give it.  It was absolutely astounding.

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois. She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University. Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside Detective. Her short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous. Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world. You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Note:   I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.  I will always give you my honest opinion on something before linking to it.

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Book Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

If you’ve ever read anything by Neil Gaiman, and if you understand that this is the first book of his that I have read, then you probably already know everything I’m going to write here.

I picked up a copy of Neverwhere at my local library.  I’m supposed to be cleaning out my bookshelves and reading all the numerous books I already have, but after I’d listened to his interview on The Tim Ferriss Show, I knew I needed to get a hold of one of his books.

I know, I know.  I’m probably the only person who loves to read who hasn’t read any Neil Gaiman yet.  Well, now I have, and I’m addicted.

Neverwhere tells the story of a man who has a very average and boring life when a pure accident leads him to discover just how much there is around him he’s been missing.

Gaiman doesn’t write books.  He creates worlds that are bubbles adjacent to our own world, ones that we think we want to go to if only we were brave enough.  He pulls the magic from the furthest reaches of our dreams and our childhoods and shows it to us, holding it up like a PSA poster reminding us to have a little bit of fantasy now and then because it’s good for us.

The descriptions, the characters, the plot.  All of it is amazing.  Normally, when I do book reviews, I say what I liked and what I didn’t like.  There’s no way to categorize that for Neverwhere because I loved all of it.  Even the parts that were a little bit uncomfortable because they were so real and visceral still demanded to be read.

I reserve my 5-star ratings for works that are truly mind-blowing or life-changing, for books that, when I close them at the end, make me think, “Oh, I wish I could have written that!”  I give Neverwhere 5 big fat gold stars with the crispest points and the shiniest surfaces.

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois. She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University. Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside Detective. Her short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous. Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world. You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Note:  I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.  I will always give you my honest opinion on something before linking to it.

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