In my latest release, Dulcina, book 5 in “The Widows of Wildcat Ridge” series, I feature a heroine who has a natural singing talent and, with her husband, owned a saloon in a gold mining town in Utah Territory. Her contribution was being the “talent” at the various saloons she and her husband owned over the eight years they were together. They ran a respectable establishment with no fancy ladies, relying on Dulcina’s singing talent to draw in the customers. Although she wasn’t well accepted by the women in the town, Dulcina looked on her talent as providing the right type of atmosphere to keep the atmosphere calm.
I’m an author who believes in including lots of historical facts in my stories. If you read about a certain product or tool or company, you can be sure that product existed at the time the story is set. Often, I’m lucky enough to find a resource that provides me with an image so I can describe what the products looked like to create an authentic visual. Researching what the popular music she would have performed proved enlightening, at least to me. I had no idea some of the songs that I’ve learned from various settings (elementary school choir, Girl Scouts, camps, music tapes for my children) were as old as they are.
Consider that many people who settled the western part of the United States after the Civil War were a vast mix of people. Some came from well-established homes in the East where too many sons existed and a third or fourth son wouldn’t inherit much. These individuals would have an upbringing that included music and many could play piano, including the women. Other settlers came from foreign countries and brought their own music and songs. For many, a piano, or a banjo, or a violin—or all three—and sheet music provided an entire evening’s entertainment with people of all ages joining in.
In the 1870s and 1880s, the plays by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan provided lots of songs. H.M.S. Pinafore was their first huge success and provided “Never Mind the Why and Wherefore”, “Things Are Seldom What They Seem” and “Sorry Her Lot Who Loves Too Well.” From Pirates of Penzance came “Away, Away, My Heart’s on Fire”, “A Rollickin’ Band of Pirates, We” and “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” and from Iolanthe “When Britain Really Ruled the Waves”, “None Shall Part Us” and “Welcome to our Hearts Again.” Or other familiar tunes were “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”, “Farmer in the Dell”, “Oh, My Darling Clementine”, “Polly Wolly Doodle”, “The Fountain in the Park” (better known as “I Was Strolling in the Park One Day”), “There is a Tavern in the Town”, “Blow the Man Down” and “Sailing, Sailing.”
Not only would the singing be a unifying activity for the family, or residents of a boarding house, or citizens traveling through a small town in a sparsely populated area, but it also put the people in touch with what was happening in other places in the world. What fun to perform songs that were also being sung in theater performances across the continent in New York or halfway around the world in London. Oftentimes, people living on the frontier had a limited scope of life, meaning they didn’t travel far from the place where they were raised, but music made them feel like they belonged to a larger society.
Left widowed following a Utah mining disaster, Dulcina Crass faces running a saloon on her own when her previous contribution was solely as the singer. She struggles to learn the necessary tasks but her heart isn’t in being a saloon keeper. All she ever wanted was to be a famous singer. Will asking Gabriel Magnus, a neighbor from her New Mexico hometown, bring the help she needs or a new kind of trouble?
Gabriel Magnus isn’t fulfilled by his role as ranch hand on the family’s New Mexico sheep ranch. What he wants is the chance to prove his boot making skills are good enough to start his own business. When he receives a letter from recent widow Dulcina offering a partnership in the Last Chance Saloon, he recognizes the chance to come to the rescue of the vivacious girl he wanted to court a decade earlier. Upon his arrival, he presents her with a demand–her answer could decide both of their fates.
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I’m giving away a print copy of A Year in Romance, Books 1-4 of “Dorado, Texas” series (US only, ecopy to international winner).