Did You Know This About the Old West?

©2013 Lena Nelson Dooley

I know authors who really don’t like the research involved in making historical novels authentic to the time period. I am not one of those authors.

While writing my McKenna’s Daughters series, I found out a lot of things I didn’t know. And I love the minute details of life that I discover. I try to work them into the story. Here are a few of the things I found and used. Of course, there were a large number of other things, and this blog post couldn’t possibly hold them all.


In the prologues in both book one and book two, I had to research the Oregon Trail wagon trains, then choose the route that would work best for my story.


With Maggie’s Journey, book one, I researched the transcontinental railroad system, especially the part that was in the western United   States. I had to figure out how long it would take to travel in 1885 from Seattle,Washington Territory, to Little Rock, Arkansas. The characters stayed in actual hotels of the time period in Denver,Colorado, and St. Louis, Missouri. They had to go east to St. Louis, then travel south-southwest from there to Little   Rock.


I also had a hard time picturing Seattle in that time period. The adult reference librarian in the Seattle Public Library helped me find

websites that were gold mines of information that I needed. So almost all the streets, stores, hotels, schools, hospital, etc., were all part of the city in 1885.


For Mary’s Blessing, book two, I spent quite awhile researching Oregon City and Portland. There were a number of interesting things in the books I read. In that time period, some people trained goats to pull sleds. I found a picture of one such goat team. They were planning on using them to pull sleds to the gold fields in Alaska. I didn’t find any information about how successful they were with that endeavor.


I also had to research medical practices of the time period, farming practices around Oregon City, and transportation between Oregon City and Portland. I had the hero and heroine go from Oregon City and Portland by trolley. My editor questioned that, because the information she had said that the electric trolley wasn’t built until 1890. I found pictures of the trolley station and actual trolleys in 1885. The trolleys were pulled by horses or mules along the right-of-way where the tracks were later laid for the electric trolley cars.


With Catherine’s Pursuit, the book that released earlier this month, I found equally interesting details in San Francisco, which I used in the book. I also researched steamship lines of the day. There’s one on the cover, and the hero is a steamship captain. San Francisco had electricity and telephones in 1885, but Portland and Oregon City didn’t.


If you want to see what life was like in 1885 in Seattle, Portland, Oregon City, and

San   Francisco, travel with my characters through these places and see how they lived.

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  1. Very interesting information Lena. I have said this on other blogs but I absolutely love the covers of your books! I don’t know if it is because they have been made to look a little rustic but I love them!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  2. Hi Cindy,

    The graphics department at Charisma/Realms were a dream to work with. I think my covers are spectacular. And readers constantly comment on the covers.

    One thing I like so much about the publisher is that it’s just as important to them as it is to me that the covers are accurate to the story to the tiniest detail.

  3. Welcome back, Lena. We’re thrilled to have you sit around the campfire with us. I, too, love it when stories have little historical details woven in. Sure makes it deeper when you can put the reader into the old west.

    Your books look wonderful. Great covers. Wishing you much success.

  4. Hi Lena,
    I too LOVE your covers, they are beautiful! I really enjoyed your Minnesota Brothers book and look forward to reading your McKenna’s Daughters Series. I have the first two books and have been waiting to get them all to start reading them. Is Catherine’s Pursuit the last book?

  5. Hi Linda, Anon1001, and Sharon,

    So good to see you here. I love visiting Petticoats and Pistols. Maybe someday, I could become a regular blogger here.

    Sharon, yes Catherine’s Pursuit is the last one. I’d love ot hear from you after you read the books telling me what you like about them.

  6. Hi Lena,
    I love reasearch. I,too, researched the Transcontinental Railroad several years ago. My story came from the middle of the country to Sacramento. Since I live in California, I was able to visit the Museum in Sacramento. Fascinating. I also had an off-shoot rail line to Placerville or nearby. Anyway, your books sound like something I’d like to read. I also love history of the west. And a good story to go along with it.
    Mary J

  7. Lena,
    I love the book covers and would buy the books by that alone but the topics have me wanting them NOW! On my way to Amazon!!

  8. I think I have Maggie’s Journey on my Kindle must hunt it up a read it. I have so many books on the kindle now that books get lost on it. Need to organize it some how.

  9. Books like yours are the reason I read historical fiction and historical romance. I want the books I read to be accurate in the information they present. I want to learn about the time and place time a book is taking me to visit and I want that information to be accurate. I love research, but don’t have time to do it. I am relying on the author to get it right.

    In college, I had a professor who felt the best way to learn history and how to teach it was to have us learn how they were written. I went to Quebec ( the college was not far from the border in northern NY state) with a simple question to answer. Not so simple after all. What I found, posed many more questions and revealed things I had no idea about. It was a wonderful experience.

    Thank you for sharing some of your research journey with us. I look forward to reading these books and seeing how you use what you found out. I am always ready for a little time traveling.

  10. Mary J, Connie J, Quilt Lady, and Patricia B,

    Happy to visit with you. I’m glad you think you’ll like my stories.

    I don’t see the info on the post, but I will give away a copy of your choice of one of the books in my series to someone who leaves a comment.

  11. I live outside of Portland and it’s interesting to learn this about the area where I live! Thanks, Lena!

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