The American West was all about travel. Emigrants, drifters, outlaws, dance hall girls, and other characters made their way west. The rest is history. However, I couldn’t help but wonder during my research for the Montana Gold series how accurately that history is portrayed. The rise of dance hall girls was one of my deepest-held beliefs about the West. They’ve been carried forward through time as soiled doves with hearts of gold who willingly embraced their lifestyle. After learning about the hurdy-gurdy girls, I began to question this image.
Beginning in the 1840’s, pretty young women from Hessia (a past part of Germany) drew crowds by singing and dancing while playing a stringed instrument known as the hurdy gurdy. They did this during a financially-repressed time in order to sell brooms their families made. The fame they gained brought them to the attention of unscrupulous ‘soul merchants’ intent on procuring their services in the mining camps of America. Families were visited and contracts signed. The ‘hurdy-gurdy girls’ came to America. Their fortunes varied. Some did well for themselves, but others suffered. While some of the women simply entertained miners, others fell into prostitution.
This was a story that needed telling, I felt. As a former military wife, I knew firsthand how disorienting travel into a foreign land can be. When writing about the heroine’s struggles in Stagecoach to Liberty, I could call upon my own experiences. It’s hard to describe the confusion you feel when everything familiar slips away and you are faced with a completely new world.
This was Elsa’s situation at the opening of Stagecoach to Liberty. After signing a contract, she travels to America at the behest of a shady couple. Elsa is very much a maiden in distress when, on a stagecoach journey, she comes to the attention of a handsome Irishman with troubles of his own. By this time, she’s very much in need of help but fearful of trusting anyone. The freedom she sought by coming to America seems a distant dream.
Exploring the theme of freedom demanded that I answer some questions. What was true freedom (as opposed to the other kind)? Elsa’s journey in Stagecoach to Liberty reveals that, when we come to the end of our strength and reach out to God, we find liberty.
Leave a comment, and I’ll give away reader’s choice of a digital version of Hills of Nevermore (Montana Gold, book 1) or Cheyenne Sunrise (Montana Gold, book 2).
Janalyn Voigt fell in love with literature at an early age when her father read chapters from classics as bedtime stories. When Janalyn grew older, she put herself to sleep with tales “written” in her head.
Today Janalyn is a storyteller who writes in multiple genres. The same elements–romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy–appear in all her novels in proportions dictated by their genre.
Learn more about Janalyn Voigt and the books she writes at http://janalynvoigt.com
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The heroine of Stagecoach to Liberty plays a hurdy-gurdy like the one in this image by Didier Descouens [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia CommonsPainting of a Hessian peasant girl by Neue Galerie, circa 1864-1874 [Public domain]
Wells Fargo stagecoach by Prayitno / Thank you for (12 millions +) view from Los Angeles, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Part of the story in Stagecoach to Liberty takes place along the Mullan Road, shown in modern times in this image by Ian Poellet [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons