I’m already celebrating Valentine’s Day–my short story Her Thief of Hearts is part of Prairie Rose publication’s brand new Valentine anthology, Cowboy Kisses! To celebrate, I’m giving away an e-book today. Don’t forget to leave a comment.
The story shares the escapade of Omaha socialite Judith Maroney, younger sister of my mail order bride Elspeth in last summer’s Her Hurry-Up Husband. To escape her domineering mother, Judith heads to Ellie’s Colorado ranch…only to get ambushed by an outlaw on a speeding train! Little does she know he’s the very cowboy who stole her heart on her last visit.
Disguised as his outlaw twin brother, Tremaine Heisler holds up a train. Oh, his reasons are sound but…he finds his gun pointed at the woman he loves! Throw in an adorable orphan, Judy’s childhood governess, and a cheating senator and…
Anyway, last month I mentioned my current obsession with the Donner Party. Some historians call the 1846 excursion the Donner-Reed party because James Reed, 46, started it all. And it was his decisions, most of them bad, that caused such endless delays the group couldn’t outrun the winter that buried them in over 20 feet of snow on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
But his reason for leaving Illinois for California was a good one. The successful businessman sought a warm coastal climate to ease his wife Margret’s health problems. She was 32. (Researchers believe this is the actual spelling of her name.)
Theirs is a love story. Margret was so ill on their wedding day, James spoke vows at her sick bed. A young widow with a baby girl, she rallied to give James three healthy children. James considered her daughter Virginia as his own.
For the trip West, he outfitted a luxurious wagon so Margret, the four kids, and Margret’s dying mother, could travel in comfort. The two-story wagon had a built-in stove for heating, spring-cushioned seats, and sleeping bunks. Virginia, 13, dubbed it The Pioneer Palace Car. Took eight oxen to pull it. (Margret’s mother passed away shortly after departure. Building her casket, and the funeral and mourning caused the first major delay.)
However, jealousy of, and bad decisions by, James Reed started resentment roiling amongst the travelers. In early October 1846, six months after the group left Missouri, he killed a member of the party. A teamster, or “oxen driver”, John Snyder had beaten his animals so harshly James Reed ordered him to stop. A fight ensued, and James Reed fatally stabbed Snyder.
United States laws didn’t apply on the frontier, so the group got to decide what to do: hang him high, or throw him out. Nobody thought twice about banishing James Reed.
By the end of October, an exhausted James Reed had made it over the Sierra Nevada mountains to Sutter’s Fort (today’s Sacramento). However, bad weather prevented his immediate return with supplies. He would fight in the Mexican American War until spring thaw.
Although eager for his family, James didn’t panic. He remembered the party had enough meat for several months. Unbeknownst to him, the snowpack buried the horses, cattle, and mules. The Donners’ last oxen were slaughtered for food by late November.
Nonetheless, Margret Reed managed a Christmas dinner for her children–a handful of beans, dried apples, scraps of tripe and bacon. Telling them to eat all they wanted on this day, she knew in her heart their father would return.
In mid-December, 1846, a small group of the Donner’s strongest left “starved camp” to trek the 100 miles to Sutter’s Fort for help. Despite blizzard conditions and their own near-starvation, they arrived on January 19, 1847. Stunned at their condition and the details of desperation, James Reed and others started off to rescue the survivors. James led the second relief party that arrived March 1, 1847. Incredibly, his family was one of only two families to survive intact. Afterward, the family settled on a 500-acre ranch in San Jose, California. Margret died in 1861; James, in 1874.
Margret Reed…another resilient woman of the west who surmounted unimaginable odds!