Sam, my heroine in my new book, The Lawman, is a pistol toting, whip welding, card playing woman of the west.
She was not unique for the time.
There are many “real life” heroines of the west from which I modeled Sam. Some came from a book, “The Cowgirls,” by Joyce Gibson Roach. I’ve blogged about women from the book before because it includes some very remarkable ones.
These strong, independent women are why I love writing westerns so much. They had opportunities unavailable anywhere else. Widowed or deserted by husbands, they became ranchers, wranglers, doctors, proprietors, miners and entrepreneurs. They opened rooming houses, taught school, drove mules and even robbed banks.
Eugene Manlove Rhodes in “Beyond the Desert” put into words an unwritten code for cattlemen. “It is not the custom to war without fresh offense, openly given. You must not smile and shoot. You must not shoot an unarmed man, and you must not shoot an unarmed man. . . ”
According to Ms. Roach, there was a different code observed by pistol-toting cattlewomen. These rules advised:
1. Strange men will do well to shoot.
2. Shoot first, ask questions later..
3. If you shoot a man in the back, he rarely returns fire.
4. Scare a man to death even if you do not intend to kill him.
5. If a man needs killing, do it.
My Samantha had at least two and possibly four of those reasons to shoot Marshal Jared Evans, a man she thought a ruthless pursuer of the man who raised her.
She would fit perfectly among Ms. Roach’s real life heroines.
There was, for instance, Mrs. Stevens who lived in Lonesome Valley, Arizona.. When her husband went to town thirty miles away, she stayed home to guard the homestead and their children. She glanced out the window and saw a rag on a bush outside. Since she didn’t remember hanging anything on that bush, she decided it was an Indian. She grabbed her gun, drew a bead on the rag, and “plugged an Apache right between the eyes.” After the Indian fell, she discovered the ranch was surrounded by Indians. Emboldened by her success, she held off the Indians until some cowboys chanced by and ran off the Apaches. When finished, they asked Mrs. Stevens if she wanted to send a message to her husband. On a piece of paper, she wrote,
The Apaches came. I’m mighty nigh out of buck-shot. Please send more.
Your loving wife.”
No please come home. Just send buck-shot.
Then there was Willie. The story was familiar because I once wrote a book, “The Scotsman Wore Spurs” with a heroine just like Willie.
Women occasionally accompanied their husbands on cattle drives, but the usual mode of travel was a buggy. Willie made it on horseback.
Willie was hired by a trail boss looking for drovers in Clayton, New Mexico. The boy looked about nineteen, according to the trail boss, and made a good hand with the horses and cattle. According to Ms. Roach’s book, the boss declared that Willie got up on the darkest stormiest nights and stayed with the cattle. “Equally as impressive was the fact that Willie did not drink, chew or cuss.”
After four months, when the bunch reached the Colorado-Wyoming line, Willie said he was homesick, asked to draw his pay, and rode off. Later in the day, a well dressed young lady rode in and addressed the trail boss and asked if he recognized her. The startled trail boss finally recognized her as Willie and asked why she had done such a thing.
She replied her father had been a drover and she wanted to know what it was like. Upon hearing a trail boss was looking for hands, she’d taken her brother’s clothes and asked for a job.
But others earned respect without subterfuge. There was Maude Reed, a Swedish girl who gathered a herd of cattle in Colorado. According to a brief news item in the local paper, she started with a few head of cattle, and by strict attention, economy and bearing all the hardships of a frontier life, she became one of the shrewdest and ablest cattle owners in Mesa County.
In Texas, there were fifty cowgirls operating a ranch in the hill country between San Marcos and San Antonio in the mid-1880’s. Some supposedly came from the finest families in the state and some from the worst. They did, of course, all the riding and roping and branding. Their leader was a whip-cracking brunette from the Oklahoma territory whose boyfriend was an outlaw by the name of Payne.
Another Texas woman, Sally Skull, was very skilled in deciding who needed killing. A man once made an unkind remark about her and when she found out about it, she called him out and shot bullets at his boots until he danced.
Having learned about horses from her late husband, Sally was a horse trader. Totally fearless, she traveled south of the border to buy horses and sold them in Texas. She spoke fluent Spanish, hired Mexicans to work for her, and thought well of the Mexican people in general. She used a salty vocabulary which inspired respect from males, but her real talent was in handling firearms. She carried a rifle and was deadly with it. Two pistols hung from a cartridge belt around her waist and she could use them with either hand with equal skill. She also carried a whip with which she popped flowers off their stems for entertainment, She also liked to gamble, and she played poker at Haynes’ saloon which was also frequented by outlaw John Wesley Hardin.
I’ve always believed a writer can’t possible make up anything as fascinating as real life, and this is particularly true of the bigger than life characters of the west.