Readers and interviewers often ask about what got me interested in writing western romances. Well, there’s a reason my logo features a wagon wheel. It all started with a wagon train.
The early seeds were planted with Laura Ingalls and Little House on the Prairie, both the books and the television series. But it wasn’t until the late 80’s when I was a senior in high school that the love affair truly began. I can still recall standing in a bookstore during one of those high school band trip time killers – you know, the ones where the bus pulls up to the local mall and lets the kids loose on the food court and shops with the only perameter being, “Meet back here by 5:30.” Well, where else would I spend time but in a bookstore? Besides, I needed something to read on the bus ride home.
I sat staring at the shelves, picking up book after book but not realy finding anything I liked. Then a friend (a boy, no less!) suggested I try Dana Fuller Ross’s Wagon’s West Series. Apparently his sister liked them. I picked up Independence!, the first in the series, and was instantly hooked. I can’t remember how many I ended up reading, but I think I read at least the first 8, up through Nevada! There were 24 total in the series.
Now that my appetite for romance and adventure on the western trail had been whetted, I sought more. Imagine my delight when I stumbled across Saturday reruns of the old westerns from the 50’s and 60’s. Bonanza. The Big Valley. The Rifleman. I loved them all.
Yet when I saw a promo for Wagon Train, teenage heart palpitations nearly sent me into a swoon. I’d thought Pernell Roberts was to-die-for as Adam Cartwright, but when I caught a glimpse of Robert Fuller as the trail scout, Cooper Smith, I was in love. And the fact that the channel only showed Wagon Train for a short time before discontinuing it, only made my heart grow fonder. We were star-crossed lovers, Cooper and I, held apart by a tragic whim of fate.
About this same time, my best friend got me hooked on old movies. We’d go to the video store and try out everything from Audrey Hepburn to Fred Astaire. I started watching the classic movie channel on TV as well. And that’s where I found it. My favorite western movie of all time. Westward the Women.
Never heard of it? Don’t feel bad. Most haven’t. It doesn’t star John Wayne or Gary Cooper. In fact, nearly the entire cast is female. Odd for a western, right? But that’s part of the reason I loved it. That and the fact that it all takes place on a . . . you guessed it . . . wagon train.
In the story, a land developer arranges for the transport of moral, able-bodied women to travel from Chicago to his settlement in California to become wives to the frontiersmen there. The women have a variety of motivations for joining the train. Some are in financial straits. Some have lost husbands and have no where else to go. Some are simply looking to make a new start. The wagon master has serious doubts about their ability to cope with the arduous demands of the journey and tries to convince the land developer to give up on the scheme. The women prove tougher than he expects, though, and with a little training on firearms and team driving, they set out. As the wagon master’s respect for the women in his care grows so do the women’s respect for themselves. The film destroys sterotypes of women as the weaker sex. And the central love story between the wagon master and the French saloon dancer who is looking to leave her past behind demonstrates that love really does conquor all.
Westward the Women came out in 1951 and was based on a concept idealized by Hollywood legend, Frank Capra, after he read an article in a 1940’s magazine about a group of South American women who crossed the Isthmus to become brides for a group of male settlers. It was filmed the Utah mountains and California desert and all the actresses were given extensive training in handling frontier weapons, bullwhip cracking, blacksmithing, horseback riding, mule driving, and assembling and disassembling covered wagons. My writer’s research heart is drooling in envy.
Alas, Netflix doesn’t carry it, so I might have to find a copy I can purchase. Because even though I haven’t seen it in probably 20 years or more, I still remember it in vivid detail. I still want to be like those women–tough, determined, and ready to take on any challenge this journey of life throws at me.
So what about you? What got you started on western romances? Books, movies, television, growing up on a ranch? I’d love to hear your story!