I had planned to blog about superstitions today but I came across an image that so captured the essence of the heroine in my next book, WILD 3, it redirected my focus. This image of my mountain woman, Maggie (aka Mad Mag), reminded me of why I truly love writing westerns. One of my main draws is the freedom to create heroines who had to be as rugged and daring as their heroes. The women who settled the west were as hard-working, adventurous and courageous as their men folk–even more so by my account, as many were also rearing children amid establishing a home, working the land, tending stock and training a husband 😉
History is bursting with dynamic western heroine inspiration. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Cattle Kate – Ellen Liddy Watson, the first woman lynched by vigilantes in Wyoming. She was a widow who worked hard to build her own herd and purchase her own homestead. She was lynched by a rival cattle baren along the Sweetwater River, Wyoming, in 1889, during the height of the Wyoming range wars.
- Elizabeth Simpson Bradshaw – A widow, with five children, the youngest only 6 years of age, walked across the American prairie pushing all her family possessions in a handmade, wooden handcart. After much tribulation, more than could ever be told, Elizabeth, with all of her children still alive, arrived at her destination, the Salt Lake Valley. There in the West she made her home, reared her children, and is honored by her posterity.
- Mary Fields – Born a slave in Tennessee in 1832, this tall, powerfully built woman was ambitious, daring and liked a good fight. With no formal education, she forged her way to Ohio and on to the Montana Territory. Declaring herself the protector of the Ursuline nuns at St. Peter’s Catholic Mission near Cascade,Montana, Mary defended those she loved from predators on two legs as well as four. She delivered the mail by stagecoach, never missing a day until she was almost 80 years old.
- Margaret Borland Heffenan – By 1873 she owned a herd of more than 10,000 cattle. She was said to be the only woman known to have led a cattle drive.
- Cathay Williams – Female Buffalo Soldier. When Congress passed an act authorizing the establishment of the first all Black units of the military, later to become known as “Buffalo Soldiers”, Cathay Williams, a former slave, decided it was time to join the Army. In November of 1866 she enlisted in the 38th US Infantry as William Cathay. Since there were little or no medical exams required, Cathay was able to successfully (at least initially), pull off this disguise.
- Calamity Jane – “Heroine of the plains” was born Martha Jane Canary. A wandering American frontierswoman, she dressed like a man and was even a pony express rider. She frequented bars, telling stories of her adventures with other “personalities” of the west during the mid to late 1800’s.
- Pearl Hart – First Known Female Stage Robber In Arizona Territory After being captured for the stage robbery, she said that she “would never consent to be tried under a law she or her sex had no voice in making, or to which a woman had no power under the law to give her consent.” She had become a strident voice for “women’s emancipation.”
- Nellie Cashman – “The Angel of Tombstone” Pretty as a Victorian cameo and, when necessary, tougher than two-penny nails, the extraordinary Nellie Cashman wandered frontier mining camps of the 1800s seeking gold, silver and a way to help others. A lifelong, devout Catholic, Nellie convinced the owners of the Crystal Palace Saloon (one of whom was Wyatt Earp) to allow Sunday church services there until she had helped raise enough funds for construction of the Sacred Heart Church. She was also active raising money for the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, the Miner’s Hospital and amateur theatricals staged in Tombstone. She was famous for taking up collections to help those who had been injured or fallen on hard times, especially miners.
Many of these women remind me of my grandmothers–both ventured westward at a young age with little more than a suitcase and their sheer rugged will to build a better life for their families–both are wild west women in their own right and a basis of inspiration for all my heroines.
Do you have any favorite wild west heroines, either legendary, fictional or personal inspirations? For fun, what is the name of the heroine in the book you’re reading now?