I love to read stories set in the American West, but I also enjoy a good Regency romance. So when I was dreaming up ideas for the book that would become Head in the Clouds, I thought it would be fun to mix the two and bring an English nobleman to Texas. But before I could do this, I set out on a research expedition to discover if such a scenario was too farfetched to be believable. As it turns out, the idea could’ve come straight from history itself.
Several notable members of the British aristocracy made their mark on Texas in the 1880s. Arguably the most outrageous chap was Heneage Finch, Seventh Earl of Aylesford. Whether due to pricked pride or a broken heart, the earl fled England and made his way to Big Spring, Texas in 1883 after discovering his wife’s affair. Unimpressed with his title, the locals called him “Judge,” but he won their affection by buying drinks at the saloon on a regular basis. He set himself up as a small rancher and bought the local hotel in order that he or his guests would always have a room when needed. He bought a local butcher shop so he could have mutton whenever he liked, and he bought the saloon to ensure a ready supply of whisky, which he drank to great excess. Witnesses told tales of seeing liquor bottles piled up higher than a haystack outside his home. The Earl of Aylesford died at the age of 36, and not surprisingly, when the doctor who prepared his body to be shipped to England examined his liver, he found it as hard as a rock.
Other Englishmen made a more positive contribution, however. In 1884, John Farwell travelled to England to organize a group of wealthy investors to develop the now legendary 3,000,000 acre XIT ranch. He succeeded in forming the Capitol Freehold Land and Investment Company of London which included such notable investors as the Earl of Aberdeen and Henry Seton-Karr, a member of Parliament. Thanks to the money supplied by these English gentlemen, the Capitol Syndicate was able to fence off the land, dig water wells, build windmills, purchase over 100,000 longhorn cattle, and pay the 150 cowboys who worked the ranch.
XIT Ranch Cowboys, 1881
My favorite discovery, however, came when I researched the small county in Texas where I had chosen to set my story. As it turns out, another nobleman had come to Menard County a handful of years before my hero, but instead of hailing from England, he came from France. According to the Southern and Western Texas Guide for 1878, a French nobleman named Earnest Carlin, who was a millionaire and banker in Paris, closed his business and came to Texas with the single purpose of engaging in sheep husbandry, knowing that a pound of wool could be produced in Texas at 20% the cost of production in England. He purchased 30,000 acres of rolling prairie at the head of Los Morris Creek, a tributary of the San Saba River. He supported 30,000 sheep and built a rock palace that was one of the finest buildings in Texas. In a county history document, I read an anecdote about the awe this man’s house inspired. Apparently, whenever he and his wife travelled, the locals would come to gawk at his porcelain bathtub and other luxurious furnishings.
After reading the tale of “King Carlin’s Ranch,” my ideas about an Englishman who comes to Texas to make a name for himself in the wool industry seemed imminently more plausible.
Adelaide Proctor is a young woman with her head in the clouds, longing for a real-life storybook hero to claim as her own. But when a husband-hunting debacle leaves her humiliated, she swears off romance. Until a Texas sheep rancher with a British accent and a mute little girl in a perilous situation stir her heart and reignite her longing for a happily ever after.
“Witemeyer’s sophomore tale is entertaining and exciting…Readers won’t be disappointed in the strong, lovable Adelaide and her ultimate Prince Charming.” – Publisher’s Weekly
And if you’d like the chance to win other historical romance titles, visit my website at http://www.karenwitemeyer.com/get_connected.html and sign up for the monthly drawings. I give away at least two historical romance titles every month, and once you sign up, you are automatically entered in all future drawings. Enjoy!