The French in the Spanish Borderlands: Part II

The French in the Spanish Borderlands: Part II

This article summarizes some of the deep background information I studied when researching Bayou Fire. Enjoy!

History Imagined


THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms……

Ye who believe in the beauty and strength of woman’s devotion,
List to the mournful tradition still sung by the pines of the forest;
List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Boston: Ticknor & Company, 1847


The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was so enthralled with the story of Louisiana’s Acadian people that he penned his epic poem Evangeline, a story of exile, loss, and enduring love. It was an instant hit in 1847 due in large part to its imminently sympathetic main character.

There is a longstanding argument as to whether Evangeline, “a maiden of seventeen summers” at the…

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Blogging from A to Z: Z is for Zydeco

zCan you believe it?  We’re on the last day of #atozchallenge!  I’ll talk more about my experience in a reflections post tomorrow.  For now, let’s get to the business at hand.

Zydeco is a genre of music with its roots in southern Louisiana.  A lot of people think it’s the same thing as Cajun music, but it really isn’t.  Cajun music primarily consists of waltzes and two-steps that came from Acadia — what we now call Nova Scotia.  It came primarily out of white communities.  Zydeco is a little bit more like rhythm and blues, and it came primarily from the people of color.  Another difference is that zydeco is primarily sung in Louisiana Creole, or kouri-vini.  The outside influences are similar, in that both genres feature accordion (button or piano), violin, and rhythm.  The latter is a good way to tell the difference if you’re unsure; Cajun music uses a triangle, and zydeco uses a frottoir, or rub board.

So, where did the term come from?  According to Lee Benoit, a Cajun musician from Rayne, Louisiana, a music journalist had been listening to Clifton Chenier perform a song called “Les Haricots Ne Pas Salé” and asked what the music was called.  Chenier’s Creole accent was so heavy that the journalist wrote down what he thought he heard: zydeco.  Some of the big names in zydeco are the late Boozoo Chavis, Rockin’ Dopsie, the late Buckwheat Zydeco and, of course, Chenier.

I’m delighted to present two zydeco greats today.  The first track is Clifton Chenier’s “M’appel Fou” (They Call Me Crazy), and the second is a fun video featuring Boozoo Chavis’ “Motor Dude Special” — a song named after Chavis’ horse.  Laissez les bontemps rouler!

Blogging from A to Z: Y is for Yellow

Samuel stepped out onto the balcony. Clytie was pressed against the balustrade, trembling in terror.

Clyties_Caller“The last time I saw you, you were wearing a lovely dress. What do you girls call that jolly shade of yellow again?”

“Primrose,” Samuel said as he stepped forward. “And she can no longer stand the color.”

Matthews stared at him. — From my Regency novella, Clytie’s Caller.

yAs with all things, colors go in and out of fashion.  In the early 20th C., here in the United States, one such color was called Alice blue, after Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who favored the shade.  There was even a song written about it, “Sweet Little Alice Blue Gown.”

Wild Flower Pink Evening Primrose Yellow
Wild Evening Primrose, public domain photo via Creative Commons

During the Regency, fashionable colors included puce, a maroon almost the color of dried blood … and named for fleas, of all things, and bottle green — the ingredients for which included arsenic.  Since dyes were not colorfast, you can imagine the eventual result.

Primrose yellow was another fashionable color during the era, and its name came from the wild evening primrose plant’s blossoms.  Nowadays, most primroses are hybrids, and you only find the color at the center.  In any event, ladies of fashion often wore this golden yellow tone in day dresses, evening gowns, etc.

Blogging from A to Z: U is for Underpinnings

uAs I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I primarily write historical fiction.  This means researching not only social mores, foods, and events, but also fashion.  When you are looking at the various women’s silhouettes that were en vogue throughout history, you have to also look at the underpinnings that created them.

Fashion Institute of Technology

I’m not going to lie; women essentially wore two full sets of clothing throughout most of history.  The underthings were almost as heavy as the outer garments.  Corsetry and petticoats were made to fit a given woman’s shape into the styles of the day.  Let’s go back to the earliest period in which I’ve written:  the Regency, which is when Clytie’s Caller is set.  Clytie’s stays (like the ones at the right) would have kept her figure pretty straight, in line with the Empire-waisted dresses that were in fashion at the time.

romantic era
Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising

Moving forward in time, we come to the Romantic era, as written about in Bayou Fire.  Some of you may recall my early post about idiot sleeves.  Well, the underpinnings at the left are part of how those sleeves kept their shape.  The “plumpers” on the chemise, and the heavily corded petticoats, gave shape to the dresses of the time.

Found via Pinterest, no source given

Then we come to the late Victorian era, in which the majority of the Seen Through the Phantom’s Eyes series is set.  The silhouette has changed yet again, becoming more wasp-waisted and constrained.  In In The Eye of The Beholder, I describe Claire’s best corset as being covered in blue china silk. This image is pretty much how I imagined it looking.

It is worth noting that bloomers were not really worn until the late Regency/early Romantic era; it was all about the stays and petticoats throughout most of history.

Maternity corset, found via Pinterest, no source given

I have also been a historical reenactor so yes, I have worn stays and petticoats.  I own three corsets, one of them custom-made, all from Dark Garden.  If you are interested in corsetry or period attire like this, my plea is that you have a fitting and get a piece that is right for your body.  When I first started reenacting, I borrowed a Victorian corset from a woman much more long-waisted than I am, and the resulting bruises on my hips and overall discomfort were off-putting.  If your corset fits right, it is just as comfortable as any modern-day underpinnings — once you’ve gotten used to wearing it.  Remember, in the periods I write about, young women would have been corseted since puberty, so they were accustomed to it.  They even corseted during pregnancy; stays were the primary foundation garment in daily life.  We are no longer in the habit of corseting, since the modern bra (the original patent for a brassiere was in 1889) came into widespread use during World War I so that corset metal could go to the war effort.  Thus, some care and training is required, wearing your corset only for an hour or two each day at first and gradually increasing the time you do so.

Blogging from A to Z: T is for Lt. Col. George H. Torney

Eye Of The Storm Cover_revisedMaman also went to visit Lieutenant Colonel Torney, the commander of the general hospital, to see how we could all help out. Between the regular hospital and the field hospital, they were horribly short-handed. The Presidio General Hospital was the first to allow women from the Army Nurse Corps, and so Colonel Torney, whom Maman called Georges (his first name was the English George) accepted Maman’s offer of assistance.

So, many mornings, Maeve, Maman and I would be on the wagon over to the field hospital in Golden Gate Park. We helped distribute food, write letters … whatever was needed. Maman’s staunch attitude in the face of horror saw her helping out the orderlies in surgeries. Maeve Kaye and I agreed that we could not have borne it ourselves; Maeve had never seen my Papa’s face (which I must admit was becoming harder for me to recall to mind) nor heard about Philippe’s burns. Maman was made of sterner stuff than one might ordinarily credit her. Beau-Père always said her frailties were well-hidden. — From my novel, In The Eye of The Storm

Brig. Gen. George H. Torney.  U.S. Army photo

In my earlier post about earthquake cottages, I talked a little about the U.S. Army’s involvement in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  Along with building the little houses, the Army treated many of the injured victims at the Presidio General Hospital, in building 1006 (this is the building in which I worked when I was deputy public affairs officer for Letterman Army Medical Center), as well as in field hospitals deployed in various parts of the city.

The hospital commander at the time was Lt. Col. George H. Torney.  He had come to the hospital originally for treatment a couple of years before the earthquake, and was eventually appointed not only its commander, but chief surgeon for the Department of California.  He would eventually rise to the rank of brigadier general.

tAt the time of the earthquake, Torney soon put command of the over-taxed hospital in the hands of his deputy/adjutant, and designated himself as the chief sanitary officer for the city.  He went around to the various encampments to make sure disease was not spreading, ensure that food and water were safe and clean, etc.  You can read his report to the Secretary of the Army concerning the earthquake here.

Brig. Gen. Torney passed away in 1913, just a few months before he would have been eligible to retire, of bronchial pneumonia.

I got to know the history of the hospital, and the various buildings in which it was housed (Building 1006 was the second of three) during my time working on the Presidio of San Francisco.  Lt. Col. Torney was surely one of the heroes of the earthquake recovery process, and I delighted in including him in my story.