Women of Alaska–Daring and Resilient

 

Kate Bridges-signature line

One of the reasons I love to set my books in Alaska is because of the history of the women. When gold was discovered in the Klondike in 1896, a hundred thousand people from all over the world flocked to Skagway, Alaska, headed for the Klondike. Only thirty thousand made it over the mountains. A small fraction of them were women, and their stories are often overlooked in history.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Skagway and its famous criminal, Soapy Smith. Today, the topic is women.

 alaska-sign

That’s me at the border between Alaska and the Yukon. I like to think I’m standing at the top of the world.

My novel, WANTED IN ALASKA, starts off in Skagway. It was a remarkable town because of the freedom that women had to pursue wanted-in-alaska-web-imagetheir goals. At the start of the gold rush, it’s estimated that only 2 to 4% of the population was made up of women. The percentage  climbed quickly. By 1900, just a short four years after it began, women made up roughly 20% of the town. Because the land was uncivilized and lawless before they arrived, the women of Alaska had fewer constrictions than their sisters in the lower states. They owned their own property, ran businesses and shops without the help of men, and some even traveled to the Klondike and struck gold on their own.

Hooray for Alaska! Women weren’t coddled–unless they wanted to be. There were the prostitutes who earned their living, but there were many more law-abiding, hardworking women who opened jewelry stores, sandwich shops, cafés, laundry houses, and even those who tried their hand at casinos. Women knew how to look good in a corset and gown, but many also knew how to chop wood, balance a ledger, hire and fire workers, and get a house built. Many of them became wealthy in their own right.

In WANTED IN ALASKA, my heroine, Autumn MacNeil, is a singer in a hotel who’s desperately trying to get a business loan from one of the male bankers in town but, so far, is unsuccessful. Her goal is to open up a hotel of her own. Along comes the hero and distracts her from her troubles. At a masquerade ball, he mistakes her for the town nurse, and in an act of desperation to help his wounded brother, kidnaps her. This sets them on a wild collision course. It was a fun one to write. The novel hits bookstores this week.

Over the years as I’ve researched and written my Westerns, there are other things about the Wild West that I’ve found fascinating. For instance, when the Western frontier first opened up, the average ratio of men to women was roughly 10 to 1. Women were cherished and respected because they were scarce. Consequently, a married woman who was being abused by her husband wasn’t as afraid to get a divorce and leave him. She would be quickly snatched up by a kinder man, and she and her children would be well taken care of. Therefore, the divorce rate in the West was slightly higher than the Eastern seaboard. Depending on the state, women had more freedom in property rights, voting, and marriage. It’s that freedom that I love to write about.

Is there anything that surprises you about the West, when you read our novels? Do you enjoy the many different occupations in our storylines?

Or, if you’re a Western writer yourself, what draws you to this era? Is there a particular time period, or state, you love to write about?

“In all her books set in the icy wilderness of the northern provinces, Bridges brings strong, admirable heroes and independent-minded women to life. There’s nothing hotter in these cold locales than her stories laced with humor, passion and danger.”  4 Stars! Romantic Times magazine on WANTED IN ALASKA

www.katebridges.com

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43 thoughts on “Women of Alaska–Daring and Resilient”

  1. I like your books about Alaska. I feel like I get to know a lot more about the area. I have met a beautiful Christian woman in Alaska as part of a prayer team back in 1999. We are still friends and I feel I have learned more about Alaska than I ever did in books from her. So God bless and thank you for the books I have read. My doctor also thanks you as she got my last book of yours I had. She was so thrilled as it was special.

  2. Jane, thank you so much for those lovely words! You made my day. It’s great to know you’re enjoying my books, and what a sweetheart you are for sharing them with your doctor. 🙂

    I bet you feel close to that part of the world because your friend lives there. I hope you get a chance to visit her! Thanks for starting off my morning with a smile!

  3. Beautiful cover, Kate!

    I’ve always been intrigued by the pioneers who settled Alaska and the women who were brave enough to go there as mail order brides. The rugged terrain and brutality make an interesting contrast for budding romance. I don’t know if I would’ve been adventurous enough to put my fate in a stranger’s hands. 😉

  4. I love reading Westerns – I love cowboys and I love Alaska!

    Great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there – too cold/dark for too long.

    I do have a brother and his family up there though. 🙂

    PamT

  5. My first book, Golden Days, is now one of three shorter romances in Alaska Brides. I did a lot of reading and research for Alaska, and it was centered around the Yukon Gold Rush, too, Kate.
    But I didn’t have my characters go to the gold rush, they turned aside from it and lived sort of near Skagway, out in the wilderness. It was fun, I had my heroine by a Tlingit Indian and she knew everything about native plants, how to use them to make life easier, and she was a master hunter, fisherwoman, builder.
    It was fun.
    One of the things I learned about Alaska was how diverse it was. I mean that is a big state with widely different land and animals and people. I couldn’t see a flower or plant growing ‘in Alaska’ and assume it was growing where I wanted me book set. I had to look much more closely than that.

    Beautiful, fascinating backdrop for a novel.

  6. Oh, also, there are two separate gold rushes, the Yukon Gold Rush which was in Canada but the jumping off spot ran through Sitka and Skagway, and the Alaska Gold Rush which was centered around Nome, a long, long, long way away and many years later. Maybe 1920? So I needed to be careful with my gold rush references to make sure I was reading about the right one.

  7. Hi Kathy! Thanks on the cover! I love it when they include horses. 🙂

    I’m with you on the mail order brides–don’t know if I could’ve trusted a stranger, too. And it’s such a long way to go if it doesn’t turn out. But speaking of which, I’m working on a novella right now that’ll be published sometime in the spring 2010, with mail order brides as the theme of the anthology. And mine is going guess where? Yup, Alaska! Don’t have to finish it till the fall, though, so I’m still working on the story.

  8. Wow, Pam, you’ve got family in Alaska! It’s a great excuse for a visit. 🙂 I think you’ve mentioned this before. I know what you mean about the very long dark days of winter. It’s freezing, plus you can’t see! Brrr!

  9. Mary, I’d love to read Alaska Brides! I didn’t realize you set it during the Alaska gold rush, not the Yukon. There were a few, weren’t there. Around Skagway, there were tons of plants and flowers when we went in August, so I’m sure whatever you mentioned in the story was fine. It is a fascinating backdrop for a novel. There’s a mystique about Alaska, and romance in the sense of adventure, when most people think of it.

  10. Thanks for the information, Kate and Mary! Sounds
    like variety is the way of life in Alaska. Kate,
    in your photo it looks as if you are standing at
    the top of the world!!

    Pat Cochran

  11. Hi Pat! Thanks! I had to giggle at your comment that I look like I’m standing at the top. The clouds sure look different, don’t they? Various types and elevations. It was pretty, standing there! It was also very warm and very deserted.

  12. Loved the info about divorce in the west. I hadn’t heard that before. One of the reasons I love westerns is the role women played in building the west. While they civilized it, demanding churches and schools, they also did their part in plowing the ground, riding herd, building businesses. Unlike the east, there were few restrictions on those who chose to conquer the world on their own terms.

  13. Hi Pat. That’s true about demanding churches and schools, that’s a good way to put it.

    Yeah, isn’t that interesting about the divorce bit? I wrote a whole novel based around divorce when I discovered some of these facts. The Midwife’s Secret.

  14. Hi Kate,
    Your story sounds wonderful. I love the cover, too.

    My mother was a great lover of Alaska since her father had spent many years there. So many wonderufl stories. And, magical too.

    I love all stories of the West. My book is set in Wyoming, 1871.

  15. In my current story, my hero has been delivering mail between tent camps and Juneau City before finding letters from a little boy and coming to Colorado to be his daddy. It was a challenge to find things I wanted to learn if they happened before the Yukon Gold rush. Most of the sites I found were about gold camps, mining, etc.. I researched mail delivery and sled dogs in 1882 or thereabouts.

    I can’t wait to read your book Kate, it sounds great!

  16. Cheryl, thank you! I picked up THE MAGIC OF CHRISTMAS over the holidays and your novella’s next on my list to be read! 🙂 The temperature is freezing here and the snow is miles deep, so it’ll be easy to get in the spirit.

    About your novel’s details–Alaska didn’t really open up until the gold rush of 1896, so I can imagine how hard it was for you to find stuff. There were a few smaller gold discoveries before then, so there were settlers there, but I guess no one recorded much on paper. Your novel sounds exciting!

  17. The title is:Where The Wind Blows and is being published in August 2009 by Dorchester. I’m so happy because Leah just told me they would be able to get my books to DC so I can actually do the book signing! I’m soooooooooo thrilled!!!

  18. Congratulations Caroline! That is thrilling! Best wishes on the signing! What’s your last name so that readers know where to look for you? Is it your first book, and what’s it about?

  19. Kate, I love westerns but I especially love stories set in Alaska, perhaps because I would love to visit! I will be looking for this one to add to my stack!

  20. Hi, back again. No, Alaska Brides (containing Golden Days) is in the Yukon Gold Rush.

    See, even writing a BLOG COMMENT can get confusing. Let alone keep it straight while you’re researching.

  21. Hello, ladies. I note a lot about Skagway during the gold rush (1896-1898). Anyone writing anything with the infamous Jefferson “Soapy” Smith included? I would love to hear about it as I collect anything regarding Soapy Smith (He was my g-grandfather).

    I have a history website on Soapy as well as a blog on What’s New on Soapy. I am coming out with a book but it is strictly non-fiction, on…yeah, Soapy Smith, lol.

    Jeff
    http://www.soapysmith.net/index.html
    http://soapysmiths.blogspot.com/

  22. Hey Kate, I love the photo of you straddling Alaska and the Yukon. I love the Yukon and even owned land there in Teslin for about a dozen yrs until we realized that although it was a beautiful dream to live there, it wasn’t feasible for us.

    My most memorable image from the Yukon is walking through the bush with our 2 yr old daughter. The ground was thick with moss over years of vegetation. It was almost like walking through water where you had almost had to lift you foot with each step. Well, the little one tripped on something and fell face first. We scrambled through the stuff to reach her – she was just lying there face down. We picked her up wondering why she wasn’t crying and she grinned this beautiful smile and said, ‘I love this bouncy stuff.’

  23. Gorgeous cover, Kate. Alaska’s always fascinated me. The one Silhouette Special Edition I wrote, WILD WINGS, WILD HEART was set in Alaska. My last book, THE BORROWED BRIDE also has an Alaska connection and a part of the story where the hero goes there and follows the Skagway route to look for his missing brother. About 40 years ago my then husband and I drove the Alaska highway all the way to Fairbanks. Spectacular country and such nice people. Congrats on the great review. I will look for your book.

  24. Hi Estella, nice to see you! 🙂 Yeah, isn’t some of the stuff we learn interesting? When I was in high school, I hated history and dropped it as soon as I could. And now I make my living researching history! I think it was all those dates and wars I had to memorize that turned me off; learning about people and how they actually lived, and imagining how they felt is what fascinates me now.

  25. Anita Mae, I loved your story about your little girl! Funny how even at a young age they know what a special place it is. I can imagine, as you say, that visiting and living there are two totally different things. At least now, there’s the internet, so communicating (with family and with publishers) is easier.

  26. Hi Elizabeth! Your road trip on the Alaska Highway must be very memorable! We drove along it too, but not for the length you did. I kept wondering what would happen if the car broke down–it’s so far in the middle of nowhere with no towns, garages, etc. Thanks for the comments on the cover and my book! I have to tell you I’ve got The Borrowed Bride on my nightstand and I’ve just started it. I feel for the heroine already, standing on the platform watching her man leave for Alaska. I’m looking forward to the rest of it! 🙂

  27. I forgot to mention about the photo–it looks like I’m standing on a bit of a hill, but actually where the gravel ends, it’s a sheer cliff. The distances are deceptive in the photo–spectacular in person.

  28. Jeff Smith! Hello! For some reason, your message never showed up till today–it got lost in cyberspace for a couple of days. Sorry, I’m not sure what happened, but sometimes the site has glitches like that. (it’s now posted a few messages up from this one)

    Welcome to Petticoats and Pistols! How interesting that your great grandfather was Soapy! 🙂 I checked out your websites and they are fascinating. Your non-fiction book sounds like it would be a great addition to the historical accuracies of Soapy. When is it coming out and what is the title?

    My current novel, WANTED IN ALASKA, mentions Soapy and his influence briefly, but takes place after his death, so he’s not in the novel. In my fictional account, without giving away the plot, there is still corruption going on. It was such a riveting time in history. Thank you so much for dropping by and please do so again! 🙂

  29. Hello, Kate.

    My manuscript, Alias Soapy Smith, the Life and Death of a Scoundrel, is a work that began 24 years ago, and is expected to be released this coming spring. I don’t pretend that Soapy was one of the “good guys” but he did perform numerous acts of recorded charity as well as acts of crime. The biography will be based on newspaper accounts and the Smith family collection of letters and documents. We are fortunate that Soapy saved nearly all of his correspondence. I, myself, have over 150 artifacts, letters and documents. When published, this will be the most prolific work on his family, social and criminal life to date, much of the material and photographs never previously published. It will be an in depth look into how and why he did the things he did, complete with documentation and sources.

    The guest blog sounds very interesting and fun. I would love to do it. Thank you.

  30. Hi again, Jeff!

    It’s a delight to talk with you! I can’t believe that Soapy saved all his correspondence. What a fabulous treasure of history, and remarkably lucky for you to have it available for your book. You’ve been working on it for 24 years? Wow. That’s amazing and I look forward to hearing all about it, and your personal tales about your famous relative.

    Thank you for accepting our invitation to guest blog! We’ll get back to everyone here on more details later, but I can say on behalf of the Fillies that we are absolutely thrilled you’ll be visiting with us!

  31. Hi, Kate.

    As writers, I’m sure most of you saw 24 years and thought just perhaps that might be an excessive amount of time to write a book, lol. Let me explain.

    As a descendant of an infamous criminal one tends to attract the friendship of descendants of other criminals, for instance, Jesse James. It was learned from one another that few people trust descendants to give a truthful accounting. So one major reason it took me so long is that I knew I had to get every bit of information correct and sourced. I traveled extensively across the United States on fact finding missions and learning how to use the net only set the publication date further forward a decade with new information flowing almost daily into my files. A second reason is that Soapy conducted and saved his criminal operation like a businessman, of which he wholly thought of himself as. In my family are many thousands of letters and documents. The man had many friends and wrote letters almost daily, which also meant researching many of the names he corresponded with.

    Trivia: The 1941 MGM film, Honky Tonk staring Clark Gable was based on the book, The reign of Soapy Smith, 1935.

  32. Jeff, thanks for the explanation of time! 24 years of research makes sense; after all, you’ve been collecting data about Soapy your whole life whether you realized it or not.

    Very interesting about your getting contacted by other descendants of famous criminals. I never thought of that, but I guess you would have some things to talk about.

    I’ve never seen that Clark Gable movie, but if I’m ever channel-surfing and it pops up, I’ll know what it’s about. We’re looking forward to more of your tidbits when you guest blog with us!

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