Before we get to that, let's talk about the inspiration behind having your heroine, Tempest Whitney, living in a dugout. What's a dugout and how did people live in them?
Unbelievable as it might seem, some pioneer settlers liked living in dugouts. Letters and diaries of pioneers recorded that these dwellings were surprisingly comfortable; cool in summer, snug and easily heated in winter. Thick walls and sod roofs supplied good insulation at a time when few people knew the value of insulated homes, and wooden houses lacked in this feature.
Most dugouts consisted of a single room (average 12’ x 12’) dug into the lee side of a low hill. Walls were created by cutting and stacking sod blocks to a height of seven or eight feet. For a roof, cottonwood poles were placed side by side and spread with a thick layer of coarse prairie grass for insulation and to cut down on the dirt that sifted through. Over the grass a double layer of sod building blocks was carefully fitted. The first good rain prompted the sod to grow, and a tall growth of waving prairie grass soon covered the roof, almost concealing it.
Of course, all this waving grass attracted livestock, which could be a real problem. More than one story is told of cows and horses putting a hoof through the roof where a weak spot existed. This happens in my newest e-book, To Have And To Hold, in which the heroine, Tempest Whitney, lives in a dugout. A rainstorm softens the dirt packed over the roof, allowing a cow or mule to damage it further, and right at a key point in the story, the roof caves in.
Rough wooden planks were laid to provide flooring in some dugouts. Dirt floors were sprinkled with water daily and swept with crude grass brooms until the surface was as hard and smooth as finished concrete. To help keep dirt out, walls and ceilings were lined with newspapers and pinned in place with small, sharpened sticks. Ambitious families located outcroppings of limestone rock which they burned and mixed with sand to provide a plaster coating for the walls—a vast improvement over untreated walls that could not keep out all the dirt, or insects.
Mother told me numerous tales of life in such dwellings and didn’t seem terribly enamored of them. I used a few of her stories in To Have And To Hold, due to be released on January 24th. One tale has to do with 7” long centipedes that found their way down onto the newspaper tacked onto the ceiling. The sound of their feet scratching on the paper drove Grandfather crazy. Mother’s complaint, besides the dirt, was snakes. She hated being asked to fetch wood because too often a resident rattler would be hiding inside the wood box. Of course, snakes liked nice warm beds too, and the pallets laid on the floor where the children slept were very convenient. Frankly, I’m glad it was my mother and not me who had these experiences.
That's some incredible history, Charlene. What an important part of our American ancestry, too. My great aunt told me stories of living in soddies, but I assumed they were above ground. Maybe she meant one like your sod dugout? Interesting times, for sure.
-- >> Have any of your grandparents or great-grandparents lived in a dugout? Be sure to leave a comment, and include your contact information, for a chance to win a $5 Amazon gift card and a free copy of To Have And To Hold.
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A widow with two children, Tempest Whitney has had to mortgage everything to repay the money her husband had stolen. But even as she struggles to hold onto her Utah homestead, a scheming rancher buys up her debts, demanding she either get off his land or marry him. Then a dark-haired stranger shows up, claiming to be her dead husband . . .
A man without a past . . .
Buck Maddux spent two years in jail for a crime he didn't commit. Now a deathbed promise has brought him to Tempest's homestead. A man without roots, he doesn't plan to stay -- or to feel so fiercely protective of this feisty beauty he saves from a hated marriage of convenience. Suddenly, Buck years for a home, a family, a lasting love. But what can he offer Tempest? The surprising answer lies in the forbidding canyons of an ancient Anasazi tribe, where fortune and danger await--along with a passion more precious than gold . . .
Buck Maddux halted in the middle of the road, surrounded by yapping dogs. Spook whinnied and pranced beneath him. Buck studied the huddle of buildings across the creek and patted the appaloosa's long graceful neck. Three days of slugging whiskey in Harper hadn’t fortified him enough for this. Hell, he'd rather chew off his own foot than cross that bridge and face the Widow Whitney. Her husband, now that was a different story; Buck would love to get his hands on that louse again. But any woman a man couldn't pay for and leave behind with a clear conscience was more trouble than she was worth.
From the looks of the place, the Whitney woman wasn't doing well. The mere thought brought sweat to his brow. Hell, he hoped she was ugly as a mud puppy and ornery to boot. Kindness from Skeet Whitney’s widow would be his undoing, considering the part he’d played in her husband's death. Buck was more familiar with anger and accusations.
Your life's already hit rock bottom, Buck old boy. Can't go anywhere but up now. He'd repeated that maxim in his head all the way from Salt Lake City. His new life's motto.
The ranch sat on bottomland, threaded through a twisting, high-walled, narrow canyon of wind-sculpted sandstone that challenged the imagination. So far, he hadn't spotted a single steer. No surprise; between drinks at Johansson's Saloon in town, he had learned what to expect. The widow, it seemed, raised almost everything except cattle.
He nudged his appaloosa toward the plank bridge. The road showed evidence of a recent rain. Dog tracks ringed the muddy puddles that glistened in ruts and potholes, nearly obliterating the prints of deer, raccoon and quail. A lizard zigged onto the road and, confronted by a mongrel pup, zagged back beneath a six-foot greasewood shrub. Between steep banks, Carcass Creek flowed sluggishly, its voice as deep and lethargic as a sleepy frog. Beyond the bridge, cottonwood trees with trunks as gray and rough as a washerwoman's knees crowded a bend where the stream widened and seemed to slumber in the September sun.
If not for the smoke spiraling up from the roof, the house would be hell to spot. It looked like a wall of rocks stacked against the slope of an old creek bed. Poles and sod formed the flat roof, the front edge rimmed with elk and deer antlers. Two mules and a donkey hung their heads over the bars of a corral attached to a lopsided stable. Between the house and stable a patch of green marked a vegetable garden. Busted wagon parts, a rusted stove with a hole in its round belly, and broken farm implements littered the yard. Buck had seen better dugouts in Kansas and had considered them poor doings.
Riding up to the house, he called out a hello and dismounted. Surrounded by barking dogs he proceeded to water his horse at a well built over a natural spring. From beneath the wide brim of his Stetson he searched for some sign of life. Finally he headed to the house, spurs jangling in his wake. His fist was raised, ready to knock, when the rough plank door swung inward and the business end of a Henry repeating rifle met with his nose.
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Charlene first serious writing attempt came in 1980 when she awoke one morning from an unusually vivid and compelling dream. Deciding that dream needed to be made into a book, she dug out an old portable typewriter and went to work. That book never sold, but her second one, Tender Touch, became a Golden Heart finalist and earned her an agent. Soon after, she signed a three book contract with Kensington Books. Five of Charlene's western historical romances were published between 1994 and 1999: Taming Jenna, Tender Touch (1994 Golden Heart Finalist under the title Brianna), Forever Mine (1996 Romantic Times Magazine Reviewer's Choice Award Nominee and Affaire de Coeur Reader/Writer Poll finalist), To Have and To Hold Affaire de Coeur Reader/Writer Poll finalist); and writing as Rachel Summers, The Scent of Roses. Forever Mine and Tender Touch are available as e-books and after January 24, To Have and To Hold will be as well. When not writing, Charlene loves to travel, crochet, needlepoint, research genealogy, scrapbook, and dye Ukrainian eggs.