Hatch, Match and Dispatch

Calico Canyon CoverI’m on research again. It’s helped me to get a really interesting conception of the wild west. 

I want one of my characters, the hero in Montana Rose, (these aren’t out yet) to perform a marriage ceremony in Wildflower Bride, Book #3. My hero fills in for the circuit riding pastor and does the work of a minister in this small frontier town. Now these days, you can get a license and call yourself a preacher over the internet. It’s wide open. I mean, sure it’s a huge commitment if you want to be a Catholic priest, but you wanta be a pastor in the church of Elvis Presley?

No problem.

I Googled ‘Minister License Free’ for the purposes of this post and holy moley, it’s easy. 

Become an ordained minister legally by our online Christian ministry for free. within the 50

United States ordination by mail Words and phrases that define this website: Minister license, legal authority as become ordained online, free ordained minister credentials… There were 1,980,000 hits. Try ordain.org. J   

Or maybe DON’T.

No idea what’s on these sites but it sure looks easy to legally do baptisms, weddings and funerals: Hatch, Match and Dispatch. You know the baptisms and funerals, sure, I can see that anyone can do that. But marriages? That’s a legal, binding contract, registered with the state. It seems like it’s be harder to be able to do those…but nope…not these days! 

Back then, there are references to people ‘marrying’ and having a parson come along and bless the marriage when one was in the area, often after several children had been born. Why not? It’s a promise made before God and man, right? I heard that the Pilgrims did this, once they’d spread from their original settlements. We think of them as seriously conservative, right? But they’d take their vows before their parents or whatever witnesses they could dig up and they were married. Everyone accepted it. And when a circuit rider came along, he’d bless whatever marriages had begun, however long ago that was…and maybe baptize their children while he was handy. Bozeman Montana ChurchSo that’s fine, I just think–for my book–I’d better come up with a real marriage. 

The thing that makes this especially hard is how much information I DID find. I found a site that listed every church in every town and in many cases the number of members, the day the church was opened, the church building, sometimes photos, the name of the pastor and where he went to school, Princeton, Harvard, there weren’t that many colleges back then. I mean I found serious DETAILS. This picture is of, they believe, the original church built in Bozeman, Montana in 1888. The picture was taken much later, but the records exist and are in pretty good order.   

But my original statement about a new conception…what really struck me is how few churches there were. How few pastors, how few towns, how few people. Guess what else? How few women! You know…the west was really empty. The boom towns created by a gold strike, were very often abandoned and while they existed they were few and far between and full of men. 

The population in Montana in 1880 was 39,000. Actually 39,129, yes they took a census. Hard to believe, what a job that would have been, huh? Anyway, I’m finding small details here and there that are helping…a little, giving me jumping off spots for my fiction writing. J  img_6416.jpgThink about the pioneers, going days and days and weeks and weeks without seeing another person, living on their Little Houses on the Prairie, having the nearest neighbor be a ten mile ride on a horse away.  The nearest town 40 miles and you’d go in once a year.  We like to romanticize the wide open spaces and the privacy but could you make it? Could you live that alone? 

Website | + posts

Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

42 thoughts on “Hatch, Match and Dispatch”

  1. wow interesting info. i dont think i would cut it going to town once a year.
    i knew there were limited pastors but didn’t realize how few. Also thats cool about a censius. i enjoy reading today

  2. Hi, Jenny. You cannot BELIEVE how much research I’ve done trying to track this down.
    Cheryl St. John had a book that helped. I’m going, as of now, for a Missionary Society and I think it’s going to work.
    Interesting how they formed Counties. We don’t think that much about counties today, as far as a government entity, because state and local seem more inportant in our lives.
    I deal with the county to get my driver’s license and pay property tax, very little else.
    But back then the county being formed was a big, big step to becoming a civilized place. And it sounds like the county could issue licenses or there probably wasn’t any paperwork, paper was expensive. But they could okay it. No policeman was going to break into the wedding and use his cars computer to run a check on you for proof of your license or diploma from college.
    I think you could be a lawyer and maybe even a doctor the same way.

  3. Mary,

    That’s interesting and somewhat scary that the average Joe can be a minister. Here in Florida, a Notary can perform weddings. I’ve attended three right here in our condo complex. (And that, btw, means we live practically in each others pockets.) 🙂

    We are right on the river and there’s a small marina, 52 slips. The marina is built like an oxbow, so there’s a small island between the boats and the main river, and a gazebo out there. That’s where they’ve held the weddings. Standing room only.

    Most of my research as yielded the fact that the West’s population in the 1800’s was mostly male. I guess that’s why “good” women were so revered when they did go West. For sure, prostitutes couldn’t be described as “a dime and dozen.” 🙂 I would suspect if there was more than one in a saloon or cat house, it was precious few…two or three, perhaps.

    I think most of us would be shocked down to our knickers how many so-called laws are still on the books…or not

  4. Hi Mary,

    You know, I’ve often said I was born in the wrong century cause I honestly think I could make it back in those days! 🙂

    I know times were a lot harder in some ways, but in many ways a lot simpler. Now you have churches on every corner (often across from the bars) and so much scandal and upheaval…not sure what or who to believe…

    On the other hand…they didn’t have electricity or the internet either…so…maybe not LOL

    About those marriages…in my upcoming release, The Visionary (Enspiren Press) the hero –in a highly emotional scene tells the heroine (who asks that they wait until the wedding night to make love)…”Adam and Eve weren’t married, they were just meant to be, besides we’ve already committed ourselves to each other, we’re married in our heart.”

    Of course she laughs and tells him, “Well we are not Adam and Eve and this is NOT the Garden of Eden.” 🙂

    Your post made me think of that scene so thought I’d share.


  5. I just reread Comes the Spring by Julie Garwood, a western set in…Montana? Idaho? Not sure.

    The heroine has four VERY protective older brothers.
    The hero calls a meeting with them and says, “She’s mine, I’m claiming her. I’m stating my intentions.”

    The brothers throw a fit of course because his ‘intention’ is to take her to bed. One of them says, “He ought to have to marry her first” The oldest and wisest brother replies. “I think he just did.”

    There is a wedding soon though, in front of a hanging judge when he’s in the area.

    I’ve tried to do some research on native american traditions concerning marriage too, because there is involvement from the Flathead Indians and I considered having the marriage performed there. But again, I’m not finding much.

  6. Thanks Mary!

    RE: Native American weddings…my cousin married a girl from a long line Native Americans her name is Skye…anyway they had a ‘traditional’ ceremony and it was lovely…drums and chants..I wish I could remember more but the person who married them was the Holy Man of the tribe..

    This was less than 10 yrs ago.


  7. Joyce, in a book I’ve got coming out soon, contemporary, called The Clueless Cowboy, he brings a marriage license to her house and says, all you’ve gotta do is sign.

    She says, Okay, that’s good enough for me.

    A very watchful neighbor lady says, “Well it’s not good enough for me.”

    I’ve heard that when you go to the county courthouse to get your marriage license (there’s the county again!) you could actually just sign it there in front of a witness, the secretary who hands it to you, and you’d be married legally. I wonder if that’s true?

  8. Hi Mary,

    Golly….you really get around, posting on many websites. Cool!

    You brought up very interesting things to think about in this post…..like the origin of counties.

    Down the road from where I grew up is an old pioneer cemetery…..it is the township cemetery (Did townships form before counties, I wonder?) Anyway, the cemetery was begun when a family was passing through in their wagon, and one of their children died, and a local homesteader donated some land to start the cemetery.

    Many a summer day my sister and I would ride our bikes to that cemetery and walk amongst the old gravestones. Many of our own ancestors are buried there. One time our aunt pointed out a couple stones of young women who had died in childbirth…..ages 17 and 19, back in the 1800’s. She must have heard those stories passed down, and she would put flowers on those two graves every Memorial Day.

    If you ever have time, could you email me info on how you yourself got started in writing…..has it been a lifelong interest, or since children grew up?

    Thanks for visiting my blog!

  9. I don’t know about witnessing by the secretary at the county office, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s as simple as that. Here in Florida, anyway.

    I’m aghast at some of the stuff the transpires here, with no legal ramifications. But, on your own property, cut down an oak tree–water or live oak–without permission, you’re toast!

  10. Jeanelle has a blog called Midlife by Farmlight.
    Cheryl St. John is who first suggested I go there.
    Jeanelle is a dairy farmer’s wife (my husband was a dairy farmer for 27 years so it’s especially interesting to me) and today she’s got a hilareous story about trying to buy a take out pizza and nearly ending up in jail. LOL

    It just sounds like real life…a little too real, maybe, but real.


  11. Hey, can I join Elvis’s church, too? Sounds like fun. For what it’s worth, when my daughter got married in California, they wanted the groom’s 80-year-old grandfather (who is Jewish and lives in New York and is not any kind of minister or rabbi) to perform the ceremony. He was able to apply to the state of California for permission to do this legally.
    But good gosh, how many frontier marriages must have been performed by self-appointed preachers with no legal authority? It’s gotta still be happening. Thanks for a great blog, Mary.

  12. Modern times is all about easy to be a pastor. Even some really well established churches… I won’t say denominations because I’d be guessing, will let people be an official preacher if they simply stand up in church and announce that God has called them.
    Some churches actually cast a suspicious eye on a lot of college. then of course others, you have to go to college for so long it’s crazy, like seven years, a bachelor’s degree and seminary.

    Like I said, over a million hits on Google for ‘Minister License Free’.

    I just saw some news story on foxnews.com? maybe where Kathy Griffin? a stand-up comedian, is performing a wedding ceremony for some friends of hers and she mailed away for the license.
    I’ve heard Kathy Griffin tell jokes, trust me, she’d NOT religious.

  13. And what about Indian tribes back then? Of course they had marriages. By their holy man or medicine man. In their own world I’m sure it was completely accepted but would a white man come along and say, “Well, where’s the pastor? You’re not really married.”
    I’ll bet not. He’d have accepted the marriage as a true legal union. So the whole marriage thing was very shadowed back then.

    And made more shady by the complete lack of women in the west.

  14. Montana is currently the only state that will allow a double-proxy wedding. You pay $900 (including $50 each to the proxies) and you can get married without either party showing up. You can’t move to Iowa though, they won’t recognize the marriage.

    I would like to be a proxy. It’s decent money and I could wear my wedding dress again and again. (See honey, it was worth the money!)

  15. I love it! You Ain’t Nuthin’ But a Holy Roller.
    Funneee, Cheryl.

    At a National Conference in New Orleans, at I think it was O’Brien’s Bar, I requested the piano lady sing Charlotte The Harlot, the Cowpuncher’s Whore. She didn’t know it.

    When she read it on the cocktail napkin she asked who requested Charlotte… I rose way in the back of the bar, having already imbibed a Hurricane, and said, “That would be me.” And took a bow. I’m forever known as Charlotte by my writer friends. 🙂

    Btw, there really is the song, Charlotte The Harlot, The Cowpuncher’s Whore. Sung by Oscar Brandt on a mid 60’s album, Bawdy Western Songs.

  16. There you go, Sherri, wear the dress and pro-rate it. Look honey, I’m down to only $450 per wearing.

    Oh, good, I’m down to only ……. repeat until the dress is cheap, cheap, cheap.

    Only, who wouldn’t be able to make it to their own wedding? I’ve heard of proxies, maybe if someone got sick??? Or was away in a war?
    But honestly, if he just had to work late or a really GOOD football game was on, then I’d have some serious fears for the couple’s future!!!

  17. Mary, interesting blog today! Love your thought processes. Isn’t it strange what we learn when we do research. It opens up all kinds of things. The thing I’ve always heard of the west was that you had to be “called” by the Lord to be a preacher. Of course, a person could claim anything and not have it disputed since we’re not privy to conversations of the holy kind. But, few of the preachers in the west actually went to a seminary. Shoot, they probably didn’t even know what one was! lol

    And someone guest-blogged on here a while back about how preachers carried a gun right along with their Bible. I’m sure many did.

    I don’t think I could’ve lived like people in the “empty” West and go for months or a year without seeing another single person. That would sure be hard. I need my Walmart and my friends, not exactly in that order. 🙂

    Good post!

  18. I’m not sure it’s the same book, but Cheryl gave me a book called Bible in Pocket-Gun in Hand that’s got a lot of interesting stories in it.
    That’s what started me looking at Mission Societies.
    But there was the list of EVERY CHURCH in Montana and the day it began, the preacher who began it and the number of charter members, even some member’s names. Most of those preachers, interestingly enough, attended Harvard and Princeton. Princeton still has a widely respected seminary. I don’t know about Harvard anymore. But, today, WOW Harvard educated person in small town America, big deal…back then??? There weren’t that many colleges. So going to Harvard almost qualified as…of course, what other school is there?
    Oh, Princeton, that’s right.

  19. Hi Mary,
    Nope, I love the country, but I need people around me. I don’t like traffic and crowds, but I love being in with the masses, like at a country music concert or walking on the streets shopping. I don’t think I’m cut out for the often lonely existence of the old west. I live on a cul de sac, and the entire neighborhood are good friends. We talk and get along and know who belongs on our street and who doesn’t. I love my home, but it’s the neighbors so close by that I love the most.

  20. I like being alone okay. I can handle it.

    My children went to a one-room country school, yes, they still exist in Nebraska and a few other places, so mostly they had one other student in their grade or they were alone. But 8 grades with eleven kids in one room with one teacher.
    It’s a really interesting and different school experience and I loved it.

    We’d go on all these field trips and have whole museums to ourselves, like…the SAC Aerospace Museum near Omaha, Ne or to airports back when they’d let you onto the plane to look at the cockpit.

    Or go to the State Capitol and be let in to talk to our senator or the governor even! The governor once came to our school. So eleven kids get the governor to themselves. Very cool.

    The one thing we didn’t learn, and I’ve since learned it’s like the fundamental rule of school children is…LINE UP.

    We just never had to line up. Waiting our turn wasn’t a big deal because there were no lines.

    I hope the kids picked it up later because it’s a pretty important skill

  21. The point of that last post, which I see I didn’t make, was, I live a pretty alone kinda life already so think maybe I could make it in the west.
    I even know how to clean a chicken and in a pinch, I could milk a cow and make butter, too.
    That doesn’t mean I’d LIKE IT.

  22. I’ve been looking through my many books on the west, and haven’t found anything yet. However, I plan to go to the library this afternoon, so I’ll see if I can find Time/Life’s Western series books on THE WOMEN and THE TOWNSPEOPLE. One of those should have something about preachers, weddings, marriage, etc. In what year is your book set? That makes a difference, too. A lot of times there were circuit-riding Methodist preachers who’d travel from town to town. Anyway, I’ll see what I can find for you. This is information we can ALL use! (The Hero in one of my still-unsold screenplays went to seminary after he became a Christian, wanting to become a preacher, because the minister responsible for his seeing the light didn’t want to turn him loose on an unsuspecting populace without some education!) 😉

  23. Hi, Mary,

    I was just reading along on this site, eating my
    lunch, when I just had to stop and join the blog!
    Very interesting subject. To answer your question, no, I wouldn’t have been able to live such a lonely life. I’ve not been that happy, being home each day with Honey working and all
    the children and grandchildren out of the house! I like having the busyness of a full house!
    As to the minister question, I recall reading that
    a person (or persons) could come into a town and
    announce that he is Rev. X of the Everlasting
    Church of Day and Night, and that he was there to
    start a new church. This was totally accepted
    by the town and a new religion and church were

    Pat Cochran

  24. Pat, you know, really why not? I mean who is going to write back east to confirm anything? And back then why would they anyway…demand some kind of college degree or license. I mean, c’mon, the barber was the doctor.

    But am I going to get in trouble with history buffs who object because I’ve got it wrong???

    Yeah, THAT never happens, I know. 🙂

  25. I love the country, but I am a people person. I have never lived more than 20 miles from a town.
    I don’t see how they did in the 1800’s.

  26. Wow–I SO would have been in trouble, Mary! As much as I dislike crowds, I’m also not well-suited to being so alone! For one, I’m unbelievably lazy, and living out in the middle of nowhere back then, you had to pretty much do EVERYTHING! I would have starved, frozen to death, had nothing to wear, no where to live… Oy! Yep, I would have been toast! That’s why I like to read about it, not live it! 😉

  27. 11:55 p.m. Just getting in under the wire! To answer your question, Mary, no, she didn’t ask me to sing Charlotte the Harlot. I’ve forgotten the words and we long ago left a gazillion LPs in California.

    I do fairly well alone, but I’d want some face to face more often than a year, I think.

    Cheers, and nite all.

  28. Just this past summer one of my daughter’s best friends had a wedding where one of her girl friends got one of those licenses and married them at a lookout over our city. It was way too weird for me lol.

  29. In my previous life (pre-writer days), I was a degreed and certified paralegal. In my family law class, we learned that in Texas the origin of common law marriage (which is still legal here today) dates back to the pre-Civil War days when circuit riders would show up in town maybe once every year or two.

    Settlers didn’t do well waiting that long in between visits by the pastor, so anyone who wanted to be married declared that intention then just moved in together. Sometimes there would be someone to “officiate” though the law didn’t require it. Many times the reception was held well before the wedding. When the circuit rider finally showed up, it was likely he’d officiate at a number of weddings for folks who may even have a baby or two.

    It was all legal and still is, because the basis of common law marriages is that a couple express their intent to be husband and wife and they live as such. As now, should the couple decide they no longer wanted to be married, the only way to end their union was to get a divorce.

    At least that’s the way it is – and was – in Texas, ya’ll.

  30. I think this went on all over, Kathleen. I don’t think marriage was really considered a law thing back then. It was a spiritual committment, more personal than legal, although divorce laws still applied to end it, but to begin it a simple public acknowledgement WAS the wedding.

    Thanks for stopping, Kathleen.

  31. This brings up an interesting question. Do you feel that people who get married in a courthouse, or a “mail order” official are still married, “in the eyes of god?” They are legally married, but spiritually?

  32. Well, sure. Ultimately ‘in the eyes of God’ is between you and God, right? At least back then before there were so many laws about marriage.
    But I like the idea of having your marriage blessed in a church.

  33. I found a wedding certificate in the TL book on THE WOMEN. The county library didn’t have THE TOWNSPEOPLE, but I can check after church in town on Sunday, DV. If you haven’t seen a copy of THE WOMEN, it would help a lot. It has wonderful pictures of the “modern conveniences,” like a wood stove and a flatiron… I’ll try to skim through it to see how many references to ministers I can find. There were a few, mostly about their wives, of course. I think there’s a picture in there (may be confusing it with another history) of a woman and her thirteen or fourteen children, all stairsteps. Looks as though she had one a year, poor thing…

    Off to do more research—

Comments are closed.