It’s a Love Story….Tanya Hanson

MarryingMinda Crop to UseI’m already celebrating Valentine’s Day–my short story Her Thief of Hearts is part of Prairie Rose publication’s brand new Valentine anthology, Cowboy Kisses! To celebrate, I’m giving away an e-book today. Don’t forget to leave a comment.

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The story shares the escapade of Omaha socialite Judith Maroney, younger sister of my mail order bride Elspeth in last summer’s Her Hurry-Up Husband. To escape her domineering mother, Judith heads to Ellie’s Colorado ranch…only to get ambushed by an outlaw on a speeding train! Little does she know he’s the very cowboy who stole her heart on her last visit.

Disguised as his outlaw twin brother, Tremaine Heisler holds up a train. Oh, his reasons are sound but…he finds his gun pointed at the woman he loves! Throw in an adorable orphan, Judy’s childhood governess, and a cheating senator and…

Anyway, last month I mentioned my current obsession with the Donner Party. Some historians call the 1846 excursion the Donner-Reed party because James Reed, 46, started it all. And it was his decisions, most of them bad, that caused such endless delays the group couldn’t outrun the winter that buried them in over 20 feet of snow on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

J. Reed

But his reason for leaving Illinois for California was a good one. The successful businessman sought a warm coastal climate to ease his wife Margret’s health problems. She was 32. (Researchers believe this is the actual spelling of her name.)

Theirs is a love story. Margret was so ill on their wedding day, James spoke vows at her sick bed. A young widow with a baby girl, she rallied to give James three healthy children. James considered her daughter Virginia as his own.

For the trip West, he outfitted a luxurious wagon so Margret, the four kids, and Margret’s dying mother, could travel in comfort. The two-story wagon had a built-in stove for heating, spring-cushioned seats, and sleeping bunks. Virginia, 13, dubbed it The Pioneer Palace Car.  Took eight oxen to pull it. (Margret’s mother passed away shortly after departure. Building her casket, and the funeral and mourning caused the first major delay.)

Pioneer Palace (2)

However, jealousy of, and bad decisions by, James Reed started resentment roiling amongst the travelers. In early October 1846, six months after the group left Missouri, he killed a member of the party. A teamster, or “oxen driver”, John Snyder had beaten his animals so harshly James Reed ordered him to stop. A fight ensued, and James Reed fatally stabbed Snyder.

United States laws didn’t apply on the frontier, so the group got to decide what to do: hang him high, or throw him out. Nobody thought twice about banishing James Reed.

After James’ exile, Margret was alone in tending her family through the horrific ordeals to come. Yet she never lost hope that somehow, some way, her husband would come back.Margret

By the end of October, an exhausted James Reed had made it over the Sierra Nevada mountains to Sutter’s Fort (today’s Sacramento). However, bad weather prevented his immediate return with supplies. He would fight in the Mexican American War until spring thaw.

Although eager for his family, James didn’t panic. He remembered the party had enough meat for several months. Unbeknownst to him, the snowpack buried the horses, cattle, and mules. The Donners’ last oxen were slaughtered for food by late November.

Nonetheless, Margret Reed managed a Christmas dinner for her children–a handful of beans, dried apples, scraps of tripe and bacon. Telling them to eat all they wanted on this day, she knew in her heart their father would return.

In mid-December, 1846, a small group of the Donner’s strongest left “starved camp” to trek the 100 miles to Sutter’s Fort for help. Despite blizzard conditions and their own near-starvation, they arrived on January 19, 1847. Stunned at their condition and the details of desperation,  James Reed and others started off to rescue the survivors.  James led the second relief party that arrived March 1, 1847.  Incredibly, his family was one of only two families to survive intact. Afterward, the family settled on a 500-acre ranch in San Jose, California. Margret died in 1861; James, in 1874.

Margret Reed…another resilient woman of the west who surmounted unimaginable odds!

PRPLassoing a Mail-Order Bridenew Web



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26 thoughts on “It’s a Love Story….Tanya Hanson”

  1. I have found your blogs on the Donner Party very interesting. Thank you for sharing your research. Makes me think I want to know more.

    Looking forward to reading Cowboy Kisses!

    • Thanks, Connie. We visit the Tahoe area often and driving over the pass, seeing the Monument, trying to imagine that awful winter off 1846 somehow haunts me. I so appreciate you stopping by.. It’s always good to see you here.

  2. Oh, wow! What an amazing story! I always love popping in to read about these courageous men and women from history. I can’t imagine living during those times. Hugs and love, my dear friend.

    • Hi Dora, my dear friend and rock! The people who populate American history really tough me with their bravery and strength. We went to the Tahoe area for Christmas and Went sledding…I had forgotten how cold snow is. I remember telling the family how the small Donner group who left to find Sacramento had to sit huddled together for days in a blizzard, wrapped in a couple of ragged wool blankets…and still had to travel ninety more miles. Sheesh. Shiver. Thanks for the comment and as always, your encouragement. Xoxoxox

  3. I shall find your post from last month on the Donnor Party (I was away some due to my hubby’s dad passing away) so I’m still reading posts because I love them here. I want to read more on this!!! Awesome post.

    Your story, Her Hurry-Up Husband, is that too in an Anthology? I’d love to be in the contest for the Cowboy Kisses Anthology. Thanks.

    • Hi Caffey, I am so so sorry for your loss. hugs. I actually forgot the post the link to the past post, duh. The whole saga has really touched very square inch of my heat. Her Hurry Up Husband is in another antho full of great stories, Lassoing a Mail Order Bride. As soon as my editor read Ellie’s story, she said, get one done for Judith LOL.,thanks for stoppijg by. I always appreciate your comments.

    • Thanks, Margaret. It was a fun story to write. Judith’s mama is so awful LOL. I so appreciate you posting today, filly sis! Xoxox I am so used to spelling Margaret your way, I always had to double check Margret Reed.

  4. Thanks for sharing the tidbits that you do… love those Prairie Rose anthologies! Happy Early Valentine’s Day! 🙂

    • Hi Nancy, yes, it is incredible. The details,of the Donner saga are so compelling, heart rending….I can only touch on a miniscule amount. One of the best books on the subject is Desperate Passage. It’s easy to read, and not at all dry like an encyclopedia…emotional yet not histrionic. Highly recommended. Thanks for posting today.

  5. What an interesting post. Makes you wonder how people survide back then. Your book sounds awesome and I can’t wait to read it.

    • Hi Quilt Lady, I can’t even imagine being in the snow and cold without Gortex gloves and waterproof boots and clothes…and to have survived just the elements during this tragic time takes my breath away. Wow. Always good to read your comments. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Cheryl. It’s been a great topic to research. I think society tends to think of the Donner party as ghouls and zombies when really, they were regular folks caught up in unimaginable circumstances. Thanks for stopping by today.

  6. Tanya, what an amazing story. It must have been so hard in a “NORMAL” life back then to keep children alive and raised to adulthood. So much can happen (as we know) and without all the modern medical inventions we have now, I think I’d be scared to death.

    The Donner Party has always fascinated me, too. I have been enjoying these blogs of yours, and when I take my “reading vacation” I want to learn more!

    I loved this story you came up with in Cowboy Kisses for Judith and her man. You always keep me guessing, and this was another fantastic story, dear friend!


    • Aw shucks, thanks LOL. You’re an incredible editor, Cheryl, and it’s a joy working with you…you are supportive and helpful and we always have good laughs while getting it done! I am so glad you liked the Maroney sisters so they could come to live on the page! And I know how fascinating the Donners are, what a huge part of the West they were. I am glad to share good information about them. Hugs and thanks back.

    • Aw, thanks, Charlene. I find I am loving the short stories. They keep me from babbling just to fill space…I have to pick and choose what to write, say…describe. It’s a good genre for me. Love to you, my friend. xoxo

  7. The story surrounding the Donner Party is interesting for many reasons: the personalities of those involved, poor decisions made by those in charge, time and weather working against them, and the extreme actions then were driven to. It certainly is interesting to think how we would react in the same situations.

    I love anthologies. Can’t beat a selection of western stories for Valentine’s Day.

    • Hi Patricia, yes, all of that congealed into a tragedy. I sometimes wonder what I would have done…snow is so cold even on a fun ski day…yet about half of the Donner group found the strength to make it.. Wow. Thanks for the comment, it’s always so good to see you here.

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