I love reading and writing mail-order bride stories set in the Old West. I’m happy to say that next month my next mail-order bride story The Cowboy Meets His Match will be published. And boy, oh, boy, does that couple ever clash!
It’s hard to imagine a young woman traveling west to marry a man she’d never set eyes on. The original catalog-bride business grew out of necessity. The lack of marriageable women in the west was partly responsible, but so was the Civil War. The war not only created thousands of widows but a shortage of men, especially in the South.
As a result, marriage brokers and heart-and-hand catalogs popped up all around the country. According to an article in the Toledo Blade, lonely men even wrote to the Sears catalog company asking for brides. (The latest such letter received by Sears was from a lonely marine during the Vietnam War.)
Not all marriage brokers were legitimate, and many a disappointed client ended up with an empty bank account rather than a contracted mate.
For some mail-order couples, it was love (or lust) at first sight. In 1886, one man and his mail-order bride were so enamored with each other that they scandalized fellow passengers on the Union Pacific Railroad during their honeymoon.
Not every bride was so lucky. In her book Hearts West, Chris Enss tells the story of mail-order bride Eleanor Berry. On the way to her wedding, her stage was held up at gunpoint by four masked men. While signing the marriage license, she suddenly realized that her new husband was one of the outlaws who had robbed her.
No one seems to know how many mail-order brides there were during the 1800s, but the most successful matchmaker of all appears to be Fred Harvey. He wasn’t in the mail-order bride business, but, by the turn of the century, five thousand Harvey Girls had found husbands while working in his restaurants.
Under what circumstances might you have traveled west to marry a stranger?
His first mistake was marrying her; his second was falling in love.