Category: Margaret Brownley

The Cowboy Meets His Match & Book Giveaway

His first mistake was marrying her;

                  his second was falling in love.                               

How would you feel if you suddenly found yourself married to the wrong person?  That’s what happened to Chase and Emily in The Cowboy Meets His Match. 

Chase has to marry per his father’s will in order to keep the family ranch. Emily has just traveled to Texas from Boston as a mail-order-bride.  After vows are exchanged and the bride’s veil removed, Chase realizes he’s married to the wrong woman. His new bride has no affinity for cattle and doesn’t even know how to ride a horse! He immediately demands an annulment, but as the following scene shows, that doesn’t work out the way he’d hoped. 

(For a chance to win the book, leave a comment.  Giveaway guidelines apply.)

~~~~~~~~

With a glance at the clerk, the judge drew a handkerchief out of his pocket and dabbed at his sweaty forehead. Replacing the handkerchief, he cleared his throat. “I’m sure this isn’t the first time something like this has happened.” The judge’s hollow laugh was met with scowls. Growing serious, he reached for a leather-bound book and thumbed through the pages.

“Ah, here we are,” he said, sounding relieved. “Annulment.” Adjusting his spectacles, he quickly scanned the page. “This should only take a few minutes. You just have to answer a few questions.” Finger holding his spot, he looked up and asked in all seriousness, “Why do you want an annulment?”

Chase reared back. “Why? Because I married the wrong woman, that’s why!”

“Yes, yes, yes, I know that.” The judge stabbed the page with his finger. “But that’s not listed here as legitimate grounds for annulment.”

The uncle jabbed the muzzle of his shotgun on the floor and placed both hands on the butt. “What are legitimate grounds?”

The judge’s finger moved down the page. “Bigamy, for one.” He looked up. “Are either of you married?”

“Yes, we’re married,” Chase said, his voice thick with impatience. “To each other!”

The uncle stared straight at Emily. “I think he’s asking if either one of you is married to someone else.”

Emily’s eyes flashed him a look of disdain. If it wasn’t for him and his veiled threats, neither she nor Chase would be in this predicament. “I’m not married. Or at least I wasn’t until a few minutes ago.”

The judge checked the book again. “Okay, forget that. Are either of you underage?” The judge had directed the question to her.

“I’m twenty-two,” Emily said.

“Twenty-six,” Chase said.

The judge’s finger moved down the page again. “Are either of you related to the other?”

Chase shook his head. “Absolutely not.”

The judge peered at them over the frame of his spectacles. “Are either of you”—he cleared his throat—“unable to consummate the marriage?”

Emily’s face flared, and Chase threw up his hands. “This is getting us nowhere.”

The judge held up the palm of a hand. “Now hold on. There’s more.” He glanced at the uncle’s shotgun. “Were either of you coerced into the marriage?”

Emily felt a flicker of hope, but before she had a chance to answer in the affirmative, the door flew open. A man stormed into the chambers with a bride in tow, and he looked fit to be tied.

The uncle stepped in front of the new arrivals, his shotgun raised in a threatening pose. The newly arrived bride gasped and fell back.

“Sorry, Royce,” the uncle said. “You’re too late. The will said the first one married will have full ownership of the ranch.” He tossed a nod at Emily. “Meet Mrs. Chase McKnight, your new sister-in-law.”

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Updated: May 22, 2019 — 1:44 pm

Not Always by Choice: Mail-Order Brides

I love reading and writing mail-order bride stories set in the Old West.  I’m happy to say that next month my next mail-order bride story The Cowboy Meets His Match will be published. And boy, oh, boy, does that couple ever clash!

It’s hard to imagine a young woman traveling west to marry a man she’d never set eyes on. The original catalog-bride business grew out of necessity. The lack of marriageable women in the west was partly responsible, but so was the Civil War. The war not only created thousands of widows but a shortage of men, especially in the South.

As a result, marriage brokers and heart-and-hand catalogs popped up all around the country. According to an article in the Toledo Blade, lonely men even wrote to the Sears catalog company asking for brides. (The latest such letter received by Sears was from a lonely marine during the Vietnam War.)

In those early days, advertisements cost five to fifteen cents, and letters were exchanged along with photographs. Fortunately, the telegraph and train made communication easier.

Not all marriage brokers were legitimate, and many a disappointed client ended up with an empty bank account rather than a contracted mate.

For some mail-order couples, it was love (or lust) at first sight. In 1886, one man and his mail-order bride were so enamored with each other that they scandalized fellow passengers on the Union Pacific Railroad during their honeymoon.

Not every bride was so lucky. In her book Hearts West, Chris Enss tells the story of mail-order bride Eleanor Berry. On the way to her wedding, her stage was held up at gunpoint by four masked men. While signing the marriage license, she suddenly realized that her new husband was one of the outlaws who had robbed her.

No one seems to know how many mail-order brides there were during the 1800s, but the most successful matchmaker of all appears to be Fred Harvey.  He wasn’t in the mail-order bride business, but, by the turn of the century, five thousand Harvey Girls had found husbands while working in his restaurants.

Under what circumstances might you have traveled west to marry a stranger?

His first mistake was marrying her; his second was falling in love.

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Updated: April 20, 2019 — 8:56 am

The Bustle: A Pain in The Behind

A bustle was a pad or frame worn under a skirt to support the fullness and drapery at the back of a woman’s skirt. Though the bustle had long occupied a place in a well-dressed woman’s wardrobe, it was clearly the article of clothing that was most vilified, especially by men.

The bustle was also blamed for many women’s health problems, including squeezed or misplaced organs.

Shopkeepers considered bustles a nuisance.  Shops tended to be small and crowded and bustles were thought to take up too much space.

Shopkeepers weren’t the only ones complaining about the size of bustles. An editorial in a Boston newspaper asked why there was no city ordinance prohibiting bustles from protruding more than a foot in length beyond the sidewalk.  

Bustles also confounded soldiers during the Civil War. Enterprising women used bustles as a safe-deposit box to hide jewelry and other valuables from marauders.  Bustles would be ripped apart and stuffed with treasures.  It worked for a while.  But then some soldiers noticed a marked increase in the size and proportions of women’s behinds and grew suspicious. The discovery resulted in the theft of many bustles.

Bustles also caused an uproar with freight agents. Since it was cheaper to ship wire goods than dry goods, merchants listed bustles as wire goods.  Freight agents argued that bustles were made from feathers and wool and had no wire.  Merchants said that bustles superseded hoop skirts, which gave them every right to be billed as wire goods.  This view eventually prevailed, but freight agents weren’t willing to give up so easily; they simply raised the cost of shipping wire goods.   

Bustles came in many shapes and styles. As one Victorian merchant said, “There were more styles of bustles than herrings in a box.” The Washboard bustle was ribbed like a washboard.  The bustle was considered a good deal for the merchant.  For it was almost impossible to sit down without smashing the washboard, thus necessitating another trip to the store to replace it.

There was also the Brooklyn Bridge bustle, also known as the suspension Bridge or Two-Story bustle. As the name suggested, this was a series of bustles that extended down to the knees.

Another type of bustle was the Wind bustle, made of rubber.  This included a rubber hose so that it could be inflated.  This bustle was especially handy should a woman suddenly find herself in water, as it served double-duty as a life preserver.  

Some practical women would wear only bustles they made themselves out of newspapers.

-Wisconsin Historical Society

Mrs. Grover Cleveland is credited for unwittingly causing the demise of the bustle.   The story goes that two Washington newspaper reporters had nothing to report during a hot July. So, they made up a story that President Cleveland’s wife had abandoned the bustle. According to newspaper reports, Mrs. Cleveland later visited a department store and asked to see their bustles.  Supposedly, the merchant told her that since news broke that she had given up bustles, none had sold and had been moved to the basement.

Mrs. Cleveland then turned to her companion and said, “Well, if they say I’ve quit wearing the bustle, then I guess that’s what I need to do.”

 

 

Meet the Brides of Haywire, Texas!

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Coming in May

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Updated: March 24, 2019 — 8:47 am

Taking a Chance–A Big Chance–On Love

Wanted a Wife

I am looking for a lady to make her my wife

as I am heartily tired of bachelor life.

I’ve always loved mail-order bride stories and am delighted to be currently writing one.  My heroine has a good reason for taking a a chance on love, but what about the thousands of other women who’d left family and friends to travel west and into the arms of strangers?

Shortage of Men—and Women

The original mail-order bride business grew out of necessity.  The lack of women in the west was partly responsible, but so was the Civil War.  The war not only created thousands of widows and grieving girlfriends, but a shortage of men, especially in the south.

As a result, marriage brokers and “Heart and Hand” catalogues popped up all around the country. Ads averaged five to fifteen cents and letters were exchanged along with photographs.

According to an article in the Toledo Blade lonely men even wrote to the Sears catalogue company asking for brides (the latest such letter received was from a lonely Marine during the Vietnam War).

Cultural Attitudes

Marriage was thought to be the only path to female respectability. Anyone not conforming to society’s expectations was often subjected to public scorn.  Also, many women needed marriage just for survival.  Single women had a hard time making it alone in the East. This was especially true of widows with young children to support.

Women who had reached the “age” of spinsterhood with no promising prospects were more likely to take a chance on answering a mail-order bride ad than younger women.

Not Always Love at First Sight

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Postal Museum

For some mail-order couples, it was love (or lust) at first sight. In 1886, one man and his mail order bride were so enamored with each other they scandalized fellow passengers on the Union Pacific Railroad during their honeymoon.

Not every bride was so lucky.  In her book Hearts West, Christ Enss tells the story of mail-order bride Eleanor Berry. En route to her wedding her stage was held up at gunpoint by four masked men.  Shortly after saying “I do,” and while signing the marriage license, she suddenly realized that her husband was one of the outlaws who had robbed her. The marriage lasted less than an hour.

The mail-order business was not without deception.  Lonely people sometimes found themselves victims of dishonest marriage brokers, who took their money and ran.

Some ads were exaggerated or misleading. Men had a tendency to overstate their financial means. Women, on the other hand, were more likely to embellish their looks. The Matrimonial News in the 1870s printed warnings by Judge Arbuckle that any man deceived by false hair, cosmetic paints, artificial bosoms, bolstered hips, or padded limbs could have his marriage nulled, if he so desired.   

Despite all the things that could and sometimes did go wrong, historians say that most matches were successful.

No one seems to know how many mail-order brides there were during the 1800s, but the most successful matchmaker of all appears to be Fred Harvey. He wasn’t in the mail-order bride business, but, by the turn of the century, five thousand Harvey Girls had found husbands while working in his restaurants.   

Under what circumstances might you have considered becoming a mail order bride in the Old West? 

Meet the Brides of Haywire, Texas!

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Updated: March 17, 2019 — 8:35 am

It’s In the DNA

I don’t know if this happens to other writers, but I’ve had some strange things happen during the writing of a book.  I once turned a manuscript into my editor at the same time another writer turned in hers.  Oddly, enough, our protagonists shared the same first names and professions.  There were also many other similarities throughout our manuscripts, and all had to be changed.

Another time I was hiking a trail in Mammoth when I met a geologist who was the spitting image of the geologist hero in the book I was working on.  Even weirder, his first name was Damian and I’d named my hero Damon. Close enough, right?

But the strangest thing that happened occurred recently. I’d been toying with the idea of taking a DNA Ancestry test for quite some time, so my daughter decided to gift me with one for Christmas.  The results were pretty much what I expected, with one surprise.   It turns out that the outlaw Jesse James and I share a common ancestor.  

The timing was especially weird since Jesse James plays a part in the book I’m currently working on. Come to think of it, it’s not the first time Jesse James has popped up in one of my books, and I can’t count how many blogs I’ve written about the outlaw.

That’s because Jesse is a fun person to write about.  Not only was he controversial, he had both a light and dark side. The son of a Baptist minister, he was known to pass out press releases to witnesses at his holdups and had no qualms about exaggerating his height.  He might also be the only person on record who took a gang on his honeymoon. I don’t know what his bride did while he and his gang robbed a stage.  Maybe she went shopping.

Jesse James lived for only thirty-four years, but there was never a dull moment.  He was a Confederate guerrilla, was shot in the chest on two separate occasions and once overdosed on morphine. He also claimed to have murdered seventeen people.

Jesse went by many aliases, but his nickname was Dingus because he shot off the tip of his finger while cleaning his pistol.  He wrote glowing articles about his gang, saying that they robbed the rich and gave to the poor, though all indications are that they kept the spoils to themselves.

Far as I know, he was also the first person to prove that housework can kill.  While tidying up his house, he was fatally shot by his new hire Bob Ford in the back of the head. 

I can’t tell you what it was about Jesse James that first caught my interest.  I can’t even tell you why this writer, who’s allergic to horses, writes Westerns.  All I can say, is that it must be in my DNA.

Have any of you had your DNA tested?  If so, were there any surprises that you’re willing to share

 

“This book charms.”  Publishers Weekly

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Updated: February 20, 2019 — 10:37 am

Before There Was a Texas, There Were Texas Rangers

I’m on the last draft of the third book in my Haywire Brides series (at least I hope it’s the last draft). My male protagonist is a Texas Ranger and, as some of you might have guessed from my earlier books, that’s my favorite type of hero to write about.

The Texas Rangers have a long and checkered history, starting in 1823. When Stephan F. Austin hired ten men to protect the frontier, he probably never imagined that nearly two hundred years later, the force would still be going strong.  

Those early Rangers were called various names including mounted gunmen, mounted volunteers, minutemen, spies, scouts and mounted rifle companies.  The term Texas Rangers didn’t come into use until the1870s.

Maintaining law and order on the frontier wasn’t easy, but those mounted gunmen still managed to move with quick speed over long distances, and settle trouble on the spot. Those early rangers were called upon to serve as infantrymen, border guards, and investigators.  They tracked down cattle rustlers and helped settle labor disputes.  They both fought and protected the Indians.

The job didn’t come cheap.  A man was expected to provide his own horse and it had to be equipped with saddle, blanket and bridle.  A man also had to supply his own weaponry, which included rifle, pistol and knife. 

As for clothing, a Texas Ranger wore what he had.  It wasn’t until the Rangers became full-time professional lawmen in the 1890s that many started wearing suits.  (Today, Rangers are expected to wear conservative western attire, including western boots and hat, dress shirt and appropriate pants.)

He would also have carried a blanket, and cloth wallet for salt and ammunition.  To alleviate thirst, a ranger would suck on sweetened or spiced parched corn.  Dried meat, tobacco and rope were also considered necessities. What he didn’t carry with him was provided by the land. It was a tough life and it’s not hard to guess why a man seldom lasted more than six months on the job.

Those early professional Rangers received twenty-five dollars a month in pay and worked hard for it. An officer’s pay was seventy-five dollars.

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame

Today, the Texas Rangers enjoy a stellar reputation, but that wasn’t always the case. Frontier justice could sometimes be harsh and cruel, and some Rangers fought according to their own rules. This led to excesses of brutality and injustice, including the massacre of unarmed citizens.  The Rangers were reformed by a Legislature resolution in 1919, which instituted a citizen complaint system.

The Texas Rangers have undergone many changes and transformations through the years. But the biggest change of all probably has such legendary Rangers as John B. Jones and Big Foot Wallace a-whirling in their graves; The Texas Rangers recently allowed women to join the ranks.  (Hmm.  I feel a story coming on.)

I told you the kind of heroes I like to write.  What kind of heroes do you like to read about?

“This book charms.”  Publishers Weekly

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Updated: January 18, 2019 — 2:16 pm

The Golden Age of Christmas Music

The 1940s and 50s has been called the golden age of Christmas music, and for good reason.  White Christmas, Sleigh Ride, Winter Wonderland and Rudolph, The Red Nose Reindeer are just some of the treasures that came out of this period.

Following World War II people were ready for messages of hope and change, and song writers were only too eager to comply.   

Some of the greatest Christmas hits have fascinating and even funny stories behind them.  Silver Bells, written in 1950, is one of them. 

Inspired by the number of different kinds of bells heard at Christmas, the songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evan decided to write a song about them. 

They called the song Tinkle Bells.  After they finished writing the lyrics, they played it for Evan’s wife and were shocked then she almost fell off the couch laughing. 

She then explained that the song might make people think more of the bathroom than Christmas. The two men didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about until she explained that mothers used the word “tinkle” to get their youngsters to use the toilet.

The two men wisely changed the song title to Silver Bells.

Jay and Ray weren’t the only songwriters saved from making a mistake. Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane wrote Have yourself a Merry, Little Christmas for Judy Garland to sing on screen.

What they hadn’t counted on was Judy rejecting their song and threatening to walk off the set unless the lyrics were changed. In the original song, they’d written that the two lovers might never see each other again.  Have yourself a Merry Christmas/it may be your last/next year we’ll be living in the past.

Judy knew that wasn’t the message that people wanted to hear in times of war. She sent the song back for a rewrite. Though Martin and Blane were convinced it was a mistake, they gave the song more upbeat lyrics and scored a hit.

Another hit was inspired by a parade. Gene Autry had been invited to be a special guest at the Hollywood Christmas parade.

Fearing that his prewar career success was behind him, he was delighted to be greeted by thousands of screaming youngsters.  It seemed he had not been forgotten.

However, Gene soon learned his mistake. The children weren’t screaming for him. They were screaming for the man behind him.

“Look, Ma,” one boy yelled.  “Here comes Santa Claus.”

Gene Autry had been upstaged, and his worst fears had been realized. The screaming children had no idea who he was.  Later, he recounted the incident to his composer friend, Oakley Halderman.

Halderman laughed.  “Sounds like a song to me.”

The two men worked on the song together. Here Comes Santa Claus became Autry’s first hit in a decade, and helped to relaunch his career.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is The Little Drummer Boy.  What is your favorite?

“This book charms.” -Publishers Weekly

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Updated: December 15, 2018 — 8:51 am

Sears: The Amazon of the Gilded Age

I was saddened this week to hear the Sears has filed Chapter 11. The company has appeared in so many of my books, it feels like I’m losing one of my characters. 

Among my favorite resources is a Sears Catalogue dated 1894. I use it to research fashion, furnishings, vehicles and just about everything else a household would have needed back in those early days.  Prices are clearly marked, along with full descriptions—a writer’s dream.

The company was originally started in 1886 by Richard W. Sears in Minnesota to sell watches.  The idea came to him while working as a railroad agent.  A jeweler received a large shipment of watches, which were unwanted.  Sears purchased them and sold them to the railroad agents, making a handsome profit. 

A year later, he moved to Chicago and hired Alvah C. Roebuck to repair watches. Together they established a mail order watch catalogue, which proved to be a great success. 

However, Sears was a restless type and always looking to improve. He didn’t have to look far.  At the time, farmers living in rural areas had to purchase products from the local general store on credit and at high prices. Shopkeepers would decide how much to charge by estimating a customer’s credit-worthiness. Choice of products was also extremely limited.

Sears decided to take advantage of this by offering a catalogue under the name Sears, Roebuck & Company.  His timing was perfect: The government’s Rural Free Delivery Act opened delivery routes in rural areas, allowing for better distribution of the catalogue.

The catalogue featured a wide selection of products at clearly marked prices. Consumers were delighted to find prices consistent and not have to haggle.  They were also drawn to the easy-to-read, warm, friendly language used to describe goods, and the catalogue proved an instant success.

Houses were delivered by rail.

By 1895, the catalogue had grown to 532 pages and featured such items as sewing machines, sporting equipment, household furnishings, tombstones and barber chairs.  It was even possible to purchase an entire house from Sears, delivered by train.   In 1905, automobiles were added to the catalogue. It even sold a “Stradivarius model violin” for $6.10

Sears began opening retail stores in 1925 and, for years, was the largest retailer in the United States.   

Many reasons have been cited for the company’s demise.  Critics claim Sears made many mistakes and couldn’t keep up with the likes of Walmart and Amazon.

This might be true, but Sears taught America how to shop and for that reason, its legacy will no doubt remain intact.   

“This book charms.”-Publishers Weekly

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Updated: October 17, 2018 — 8:18 am

Prairie Guest Books

In the recently released Old West Christmas Brides collection, Chimney Rock plays an important part of my story.

Located in Nebraska, this rock formation was one of the many prairie “registers” along the pioneer trails leading west, and could be seen from as far as thirty miles away.  Some considered it the eighth wonder of the world.

Thousands of travelers carved or painted signatures onto these “registers.”  Sometimes they left messages to those traveling behind.     

Those in a hurry would simply hire one of the businessmen who had set up shop at the base of the rocks to carve or paint signatures for a fee.  Travelers would often add hometowns and date of passage. 

Chimney Rock was taller in the 1800s.

The best known “Register of the desert” was Independence Rock.  Travelers beginning their westbound trip in the spring tried to reach this rock by July 4th.  Reaching it any later could be disastrous. For that would mean, travelers might not reach their destinations before running out of grain or the winter storms hit. 

The most recognized landmark on the Oregon trail, Independence Rock is located in Wyoming.  The granite outcropping is 1,900 feet long, 700 feet wide, and 128 feet high and has been described as looking like a turtle or large whale.  It’s a mile around its base. 

 

True West Magazine

It’s hard to imagine in this day of instant communication, the importance of these rocks.  In those early days, mail was none-existent and anyone heading west had no way of communicating with family back home.

Travelers climbed the rock to engrave their names, but also to look for the names of friends or relatives who had passed before them. One of the earliest signatures to be found is that of M.K. Hugh, 1824.

Cries of Joy!

Lydia Allen Rudd reached the rock on July 5th, 1852.  Though she wrote in her diary “that there are a million of names wrote on this rock,” she was somehow able to locate her husband’s name.  He had passed by the rock three years earlier.    

Unfortunately, erosion and time have erased many of the names, but the echoes of the past linger on. 

If you were a traveler in the 1800s, what message would you leave for those traveling behind? 

 

 

“This tale charms.” -Publishers Weekly

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Updated: September 26, 2018 — 2:33 pm