Sharon Gillenwater: Excuse Me, May I Borrow Part of Your Ranch?

Gillenwater-02I grew up in West Texas, in Mitchell County.  So far, I’ve used my hometown of Colorado City as the actual setting for only one of my books.  But all of my westerns, whether historical or contemporary, are set in fictional towns in that part of the country.  Its wonderful history fuels this writer’s heart and imagination.


The first ranch was established in the county in 1875.  Only a handful of ranchers followed until the building of the Texas and Pacific Railroad spurred settlement of the area.


Mitchell County and Colorado City, known then simply as Colorado, were organized in 1881.  (For clarity, I’m going to add City.)  Ranchers moved thousands of Texas Longhorns into the vast open range of West Texas.  Colorado City sprang to life with stores, saloons, boarding houses, hotels, churches and a school.


When it came time to sell some cattle, those same ranchers—from all across West Texas and southeast New Mexico—herded them to Colorado City for shipment to Kansas City and Chicago.  They also hauled in wagonloads of buffalo bones, gathered from the prairie, and sent them to factories back east to make fertilizer and buttons. 


Supplies for the town and ranches came into Colorado City by rail and were hauled by wagon all across West Texas and the Panhandle.  The area needed people, and they came, full of dreams and the determination to make them happen.  The descendants of many of those families are still there.


Bob and Betty Gary arrived in Mitchell County in 1881.  Mr. Gary was employed at a grocery in Colorado City until he and Betty bought a ranch south of town in 1898.  Several years later, their daughter, Ewell, married Charles Thompson.  When they inherited the land, they changed the name to Thompson Ranch—which is where I grew up. 


Picture#1forPetticoatsandPistolsMy parents moved to the ranch in 1945, a year after they were married.  Soon Daddy became the ranch foreman, a position he held until his death over fifty years later.  The ranch had six thousand acres which my dad, my brother, and one or two hired hands worked—raising around three hundred head of Hereford cattle and farming cotton.


But when I needed a fictional ranch for the powerful, wealthy family in my new series from Revell, The Callahans of Texas, I wanted something bigger.  So I moseyed down the highway and borrowed sixty thousand acres from the Spade Ranch.  It runs over a hundred thousand acres, so I figured they wouldn’t mind letting me use some of their range.  Imaginary cattle don’t eat much. 


And it has an illustrious history.  Technically, it is the Renderbrook Spade.  Renderbrook comes from a large spring on the ranch, named for Captain Joseph Rendlebrock who led Company G, Fourth Cavalry through the area in 1872.  They were scouting for Indians or Indian signs as well as exploring and mapping the little known country west and north of Fort Concho, which is near San Angelo.


They had a brief skirmish with some Indians, which lasted “less than no time.”  The little battle helped attach the Captain’s name to the spring, although someone botched the spelling, and called it Renderbrook.


By 1882, brothers J.W. and Dudley Snyder bought the land around Renderbrook Springs.  They’d been ranching for several years and knew that the free range wouldn’t last.  They built a substantial headquarters, known as the “White House.”  It is still there today.


They did well until the financial panic in 1885 was followed by a severe drought in 1886-1888.  Ranching had changed since the early days, and capital requirements for land, livestock and improvements such as wells, windmills, tanks and fencing were beyond the reach of most who had built the beef cattle industry. 


The Snyders needed a buyer for their ranch when Isaac Ellwood and his son, William L., arrived in Colorado City in 1889. 


Originally from New York, Isaac had had a few adventures—working as a teamster on the Erie Canal and later spending time in the California goldfields.  But he had settled in DeKalb, Illinois and established a prosperous hardware business.  Adequate fencing was a common problem, and Isaac worked on a design for barbed wire.  In 1874, when he saw that Joseph Glidden’s design was better than his, Isaac formed a partnership with the older man.  Two years later, Glidden wanted to retire and sold his interest in the company to Washburn & Moen, a wire manufacturing company from Massachusetts.  Isaac now had a powerful partner that changed a little cottage industry into big business.  He made millions.


When Isaac and his son came to West Texas to promote their barbed wire, he was already a respected horse breeder and owned a progressive farm complex outside of DeKalb.   But he wanted land in Texas.  They stayed at the St. James Hotel, the ritziest one in Colorado City.  It was favored by cattlemen, particularly the big operators.


When the Ellwoods toured Renderbrook, they liked what they saw, especially its potential.  They bought the ranch, but the Snyders kept their cattle and their brand. 


PetticoatsandPistolspicture2Isaac turned over the running of the ranch to William L. and went back to Illinois to tend to the wire business and harvest at his farm.  William L. began searching for a herd.  He found it two hundred miles away in the Texas Panhandle.  He purchased 800 head of cattle from J. F. “Spade” Evans and acquired the brand which is shaped like a short-handled spade.  Thus the ranch became Renderbrook Spade, generally known as Spade Ranch.


I not only borrowed some land for the Callahans, I appropriated the spring, too, renaming it Aidan’s Spring in honor of Aidan Callahan.  He brought the first herd into my fictionalized version of the area and established the ranch and the little town of Callahan Crossing. 


The modern day Callahans—Dub and Sue and their children Will, Chance and Jenna—are as loyal to the ranch and the town as Aidan was.  Each of the three books has a stand alone romance, but their love of God, family and West Texas runs strongly through the series.


And the siblings need that support.  In Jenna’s Cowboy, which hits the stores in January, Jenna and her family help their friend and her hero, Nate Langley, deal with post traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.


In Emily’s Chance, which comes out next September, Chance recruits their help to try to win the heart of a big-city career woman who has her five-year plan all laid out—and it doesn’t include him.


And in the last, yet unnamed book, Will falls for a courageous young woman who is pregnant, unmarried and homeless.  The family pitches in to show Savannah that wealth or poverty doesn’t matter when it comes to love.


JENNA'SCOWBOYCOVERMy thanks to Cheryl St.John and the ladies of Petticoats and Pistols for asking me to be a guest blogger.


Leave a comment to enter the drawing for a copy of Jenna’s Cowboy.


Jenna’s Cowboy is Sharon Gillenwater’s nineteenth published novel.  She’s written for both the ABA and CBA, with settings ranging from Regency England and Scotland to Texas in the 1880’s and modern day Texas.  Five of her books were published under the penname Sharon Harlow.  Visit her website at   She is also on Facebook.

Sharon will send an autographed copy of Jenna’s Cowboy to one person who comments this weekend!

Download an excerpt from Jenna’s Cowboy, go Revell’s website.

Cheryl St.John
Land of Dreams for Kindle:
Colorado Courtship (Winter of Dreams) Anthology LIH 1/13
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  1. I’ve never been to Texas so it was interesting to visit through your eyes. Your new series featuring the Callahans sounds GREAT. I’d love to find out how Jenna helps Nate readjust to life after returning from his tour of military service.

    Best wishes!

  2. Hi Sharon! It’s great to have you at P&P! I’ve been a fan of your books for a long time now, starting with Harlequin Historical and the books for Steeple Hill. Can’t wait to read JENNA’S COWBOY! It’s takes real heart to run a ranch, and your characters always have that quality in abundance. Take care!

  3. I really enjoyed all the information you gave us. As I’ve grown older I’ve developed more interest in history. And I love the name Aidan, it’s my grandson’s name and it’s spelled exactly like that.

  4. I’ll have to keep an eye out for your books!

  5. Hi! I look forward to reading about “Jenna’s Cowboy” returning to town after all those years. I like Debbie Macomber’s glowing endorsement too!

  6. My goodness, we slept in. It’s already 7:19 here on the west coast. Our clock radio in the bedroom went bonkers this week, so I was blissfully unware of the time. Good morning!

  7. Hi Laurie,
    You’ve been deprived! You need to visit the great state of Texas. 🙂 Hope you enjoy the Callahans. Thanks for dropping by.

  8. Hi Vicki! It’s fun to be here! Though blogging is hard work. Don’t know how you dear ladies do it all the time. Of course, maybe if I wasn’t so long winded… I love your comment about it taking real heart to run a ranch. That’s so true.

  9. Hi Linda,
    Glad you enjoyed the history lesson. 🙂 I’ve always loved history. I wanted to write a historical series set in my home town, but the things I wanted to include didn’t always fit the story time-wise. (Is that a word?) So I’ve borrowed bits and pieces for my imaginary places. I picked the name Aidan from my handy-dandy name book. I love it! Cool that my old-time rancher and your grandson share the name.

  10. Thanks for stopping by Anon1001. Jenna’s Cowboy is showing up all over the place now. I spent way too much time this week checking online.

  11. Hi Laney, I hope you enjoy Jenna and Nate’s story. Of all the books I’ve written (working on #21), this one is dearest to my heart. And I’m thrilled with Debbie Macomber’s endorsement. What an honor! Thanks for dropping by.

  12. Thanks for this wonderful post and the great photos. I am captivated with this historical overview and your novel looks amazing.

  13. Good morning, Sharon. I slept in, too. Almost a half hour later than you. Thanks for the fascinating history lesson about your hometown. I loved reading it, and it definitely is a place I’d love to visit. My only experience with Texas has been the airport in Houston and the bits of it that I could see when flying over. One of these days I’d like to make a trip there. To anyone reading, if you’re looking for a great book, run out and buy Jenna’s Cowboy as soon as it hits the shelves!

  14. I forgot to say, no need to enter me in the drawing for this wonderful book since I’m lucky enough to already have it in my hands.

  15. Thanks, Anne. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I could write a whole book about the history of my hometown and the surrounding area. Maybe I will when I retire. Hope you enjoy Jenna’s Cowboy. Thanks for stopping by.

  16. Sharon, loved reading about your hometown in Texas. Thanks for all the history. Your new book Jenna’s Cowboy sounds fascinating.

  17. I enjoyed reading this post….Your new book sounds wonderful…thanks for the opportunity to read it 🙂

  18. Sharon, welcome to the Junction! We’re so happy you had the time to stop in and visit.

    I’ve done some research in your part of West Texas and I’m fascinated by the vastness, by the size of the ranches and by the characters that have lived there over the years. Thanks for reminding me of them.

  19. Hi Suzie. Hey, it’s Saturday. A good day to sleep in, right? Yes, you need to visit Texas. The Houston airport is NOT a good example. 🙂 Way too big for me. Thanks for your kind words about Jenna’s Cowboy.

  20. Hi Judy, glad you enjoyed it. Y’all probably noticed that I’m proud of C-City’s history. It doesn’t show up much in the history books, which is a shame. Hope you enjoy Jenna’s Cowboy. Thanks for stopping by.

  21. Hi Karen. Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the post. Hope you enjoy Jenna’s Cowboy, too.

  22. Hi Tracy. Thanks for letting me visit with you wonderful ladies at the Junction! Glad you liked reading a little more about my part of West Texas.

  23. Hi Sharon,
    Just stopping by the Junction to say how gorgeous your book cover is. Love the hero’s amazing blue eyes. Happy Trails!!

  24. Sharon, welcome to P&P. We’re glad to have you. Hope you enjoy your stay and come back again real soon.

    I loved your blog. I live just a bit north of you in Crosby County, the city of Ralls. So I’m always pleased to find authors who come from the same area in Texas. I’ve heard about the Renderbrook Spade Ranch for a long time but didn’t know the history. Thank you for chosing it for your topic. It’s so interesting.

    Your new book looks wonderful. I’m going to have to put it on my book list.

  25. Interesting to hear that your from Texas, I have an aunt that lives in Kerrville. Is this anywhere near you? Glad to have you here today!

  26. Avatar

    Hi Charlene. Thank you, though I can’t take much credit for the cover. I just gave them some general descriptions. The wonderful folks at Revell took care of it. When they sent me the first draft of the cover, his eyes were even brighter blue…’twas all I noticed. So they kindly toned them down just enough and made it beautiful. 🙂 Happy Trails to you, too!

  27. They say 3rd time is charm…will try again….hope you are having a wonderful day and just wanted to let you know I posted my comment on your facebook profile as I am having trouble here….thanks Sharon

  28. I enjoyed reading this post… thanks for sharing… I have to add these books to my list! 😀

  29. Avatar

    Hi Linda B. I’m delighted to be here. Thank you for letting me yak away!

    I’ve heard of Ralls, but I don’t think I’ve ever been there. Sadly, I don’t live in Texas now. My husband is from Washington state, so that’s where we landed years ago. Now that he’s retired, we keep talking about moving to Texas some day, but with our son and family up here, I’m not sure we’ll ever make that change.

    But West Texas still has a special place in my heart and always will.

    Spade Ranch used to have a couple of large divisions up in the Texas Panhandle, too. As far as I know, they’re still there.

    Thanks for putting Jenna’s Cowboy on your book list. 🙂


  30. Avatar

    Hi Teresa. Kerrville is a 3-4 hour drive south of Colorado City. It’s in the Texas Hill Country and a beautiful place to live. I’ve driven by there, but never stopped. It’s on my “visit someday” places.

    Thanks for having me here.


  31. What a interesting article,makes me want to know more,Ive been to Texas an loved it!Even climbed on a bull at Billy Bobs,never again!Thanks for coming by an giving us such a good read.

  32. Avatar

    Gay, you made it! I saw your note on FB. I agree,P&P is a great website! They have so much cool info here, and they have a lot of fun, too. It’s one of my favorite blogs.

    Yes, I’m having a wonderful day. This is a lot of fun!


  33. Avatar

    Thanks, Colleen. Glad you enjoyed the post. And thanks for adding the books to your list. Music to an author’s ears. 🙂

  34. Avatar

    Hi Vickie. Riding the bull at Billy Bobs? You’re braver than me! But don’t let that stop you from visiting Texas again. There are plenty of tamer things to do. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the read. Thanks!

  35. Hi Sharon,

    I find that your books are very moving. I have drove through Texas. I have put your books on my must read list.

    I find that books which move the soul has a way to enter the heart and keep it strong

    Thanks for sharing

    Walk in harmony,


  36. Hi Sharon, great post! I love me some cowboys and your books sound awesome! I am sorry to say I have never read your books before but I will start watching for them! Thanks for sharing them with us today!

  37. Avatar

    Hi Melinda. Thank you for the compliment and for putting my books on your must read list. 🙂 I love your phrase about a book that moves the soul enters the heart and keeps it strong. What a wonderful thought!

  38. Enjoyed reading the comments. The book sounds really good too

  39. Avatar

    Hi Quilt Lady. No problem about not reading my books before. So many books, so little time. ‘Tis the plague of us all. 🙂 Cool that you’ll start watching for them. Thanks for stopping by.

  40. Avatar

    Hi Joye. I’m lovin’ this comment thing. It’s like having a party with a bunch of new friends! Thanks for posting.

  41. Hi Again, Sharon! Just got back from a wonderful Christian bookstore, and “Jenna’s Cowboy” is officially in my possession. It looks great! I found it on the “New Release” shelf, up front for all the world to see. I hope you sell a zillion copies!

  42. Great info!
    Your books sound really good.

  43. Avatar

    Hi again, Vicki. Hey, thanks for picking up Jenna’s Cowboy. 🙂 On the “New Release” shelf? Yippee! That’s so cool!
    Thanks for telling me.

  44. Avatar

    Hi Estella. Glad you enjoyed the info. Hope you enjoy my books. Thanks for dropping by.

  45. A wonderful introduction into the history of your area and the books that I find fascinating. Thanks for this lovely post.

  46. Welcome to the Junction, Sharon. What a terrific post. I love the pictures and all the information. Since I’ve never been to Texas, this all helps my own imaginating and writing.

    Here’s to a great 2010 and many more books from you! oxoxoxxo

  47. I loved reading your post. I enjoyed reading about the history of that part of Texas. I was in Texas in 1984 when my oldest brother in Big Springs, TX, but I am sure things have changed since then. Your new series featuring the Callahans sounds really good. I can’t wait to read Jenna’s Cowboy.

  48. I’m rather addicted to the historical and modern day western books. My family and I operate a cattle ranch so I’m very familiar with the day-to-day work involved. Always looking for another series that catches my eye and I’ll be on the lookout for this new series!!

  49. Hello, Sharon, you make me want to visit Texas, and read your books! Jenna’s Cowboy sounds intriguing.

  50. Hi Sharon! I’ve been a fan of yours for years. I love your writing AND the message of hope that is woven into each work. I am looking forward to reading Jenna’s Cowboy.

  51. Avatar

    Hi Ruth. Thank you for the nice compliment.:) Like every little nook and cranny of this great country, it has it’s own story to tell. Even if my contemporaries, I love slipping some of it in.
    Thank you for dropping by.

  52. Avatar

    Hi Tanya. Thanks for letting me camp out at the Junction for a few days. This is fun! I found a bunch of pictures of Spade, so it was hard to chose just a couple. But I wanted people to see that it’s pretty and green there some of the time. The summer heat dries everything up most years. But there are lots of wide open spaces!

    Hope you have a great 2010, too!

  53. Avatar

    Hi Becky. Big Springs is just 38 miles from Colorado City, so you were really close. I’m sure both towns have changed a lot since 1984. I haven’t been to Big Spring in several years. We used to fly into Midland and go past or through Big Spring on our way to C-City. These days I usually fly in to San Antonio to visit my brother, then drive up so I miss it.

    I hope you enjoy the Callahans as much as I am.

    Thanks for your comments!


  54. Avatar

    Hi Amy. We like people who are rather addicted to westerns, both historical and modern day. Uh-oh, an expert. Hope I didn’t mess anything up on the day-to-day workings of the ranch. 🙂 I relied some on memory and mostly on input from some dear friends who retired from the Spade a few years ago. But if you see a glaring mistake, drop by my website, send me an email and give me a head’s up.

    Hope you enjoy the series. Thanks for coming by.


  55. Avatar

    Hi Jennie. I’m sure Texans would love to have you visit. And I know I’m pleased that you want to read my books. 🙂 I hope Jenna’s Cowboy fulfills your expectations.

    Thank you for coming by the Junction and leaving a comment.


  56. Avatar

    Hi Ethel. Good to see you here! I appreciate your kind words. There is probably more of a message of hope in Jenna’s Cowboy than any other book I’ve written. At least that’s my take on it. Others might not agree. 🙂 But I certainly hope you enjoy it. Thank you for your comments.


  57. hi and welcome; if Debbie Macomber endorsed your book it has to be well worth reading. Even from the sounds of it it is on it’s own. I love stories about cowboys/ranches etc. Thanks for sharing today.

  58. Avatar

    Hi RobynL. Debbie’s endorsement arrived too late to go on the first printing of the book. (Here’s hoping for more print runs!) but if anyone wants to read it, it’s on my webpage. The link is on this page by the cover. I’m still Snoopy dancing…well virtually…about it.

    I think I can speak for the Fillies as well as myself — we love readers who love stories about cowboys/ranches/etc. 🙂

    Thanks for your comment.


  59. Avatar

    Enjoyed your post. It is wonderful to have a rich family and area history to call on for your stories. I visited your website. Nice.
    Best of luck with the release of JENNA’S COWBOY as well as the rest of the trilogy. They all sound like good stories. Will they be coming out in trade paperback or large print? I am always looking for new christian fiction for our library, but mass market paperbacks don’t work.

  60. Avatar

    Hi Patricia. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for your nice compliment on my website. I’ll pass your praise along to my husband who did it for me.

    The series is in trade paperback, so that should work for your library. 🙂

    Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment.


  61. Welcome to Wildflower Junction! Thanks so much for the informative post. The Callahan family sounds as
    though they would be great neighbors! I’m looking forward to reading their stories!

    Pat Cochran

  62. Avatar

    Hi Pat. Thanks for allowing me to hang out here at Wildflower Junction. I agree — the Callahans may be rich, but they love their neighbors and community. Hope you enjoy their stories.


  63. I have traveled through Texas several times. My father reminded me recently that I lived in Texas as a baby for a very short time while he was in the service. I have to admit that I have no memory of it. The other times were more recent. Traveling both times to McAllen with a friend to visit her son. I love the biggness and the openess of it. always wanted the time to actually leave the highway and travel past some of those beautiful gates and entrances to see what lay beyond. A few days in San Antonio and the Missions and the River Walk only whet my appitite for learning more. Am looking forward to your books.

  64. Hi Connie. I haven’t been to McAllen, though I’d like to visit that area. I love the Missions and River Walk in San Antonio. I hope some day you get to go beyond the gates and entrances and see the sights. Hope you enjoy the Callahans. Thanks for your note.


  65. Hi Sharon! I love how you used the ranch where you grew up and the borrowed spread and spring for your setting! Wonderful background story! Your modern ranch stories sound very interesting! Best wishes for great release success!

  66. Hi Martha. It was fun to borrow some land and the spring from Spade. I’m thinking I should set the next series on the Thompson Ranch where I grew up. It’s smaller but has a wonderful plantation style home, part of which is over 100 years old. I can just picture it on the cover. Thanks for you good wishes!

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