Claire Helena Ferguson – Deputy Sheriff

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here.

Back in January I started a series of articles about 10 amazing women who paved the way for females in various branches of law enforcement. If you missed the prior posts you can find them here:


This month I want to talk about Claire H. Ferguson, another trailblazing female law enforcement officer.

Claire was the member of a well-known Utah family. In fact, the female members of the family were quite progressive for their times. Claire’s mother, Ellen, co-founded the Utah Conservatory of Music and after her husband’s death dedicated herself to practicing medicine. Ellen was also active in politics and organized the Women’s Democratic Club in 1896.  Claire’s sister Ethel was an actress. It is interesting that little is remembered of her father William, other than that he was a Scotsman and that he moved his family to Utah in 1876.

Claire herself was quite accomplished in her own right. One contemporary newspaper article, which called her the girl sheriff of Utah, described her as “young and beautiful, highly educated and prominent in society.”

Born in Provo, Utah in 1877, Claire grew up in Salt Lake City. It was there she received her commission in 1897. Prior to that she’d served as a stenographer in the sheriff’s office under Sheriff T.P. Lewis. It was Sheriff Lewis who recognized her aptitude and ambition, and made the appointment. It is reported that she viewed her new role in this manner “The prospect did not frighten me. You must remember that I was born in the grand, free West, where we breathe freedom of thought and action with the air.” She also said “Women make good sheriffs. Every sheriff’s office should have women in it.”

Her duties included taking charge of female prisoners, vandals and child truants. But she did so much more. She was trained to handle a weapon the same as any other deputy and was warned that she might at some  point be required to carry out an execution, though there is no record that she had to do so.  According to her own accounts, she served more than 200 summons, transported more than 100 women to the insane asylum, escorted 12 or more children to reform school and escorted a half dozen women back and forth  between jail and court and remained with them throughout their trial proceedings.

The Kendalville Standard Newspaper of Indiana, calling her the girl sheriff of Utah, reported some of her other accomplishments in their September 29, 1899 edition: “…she has had as many thrilling experiences as the border heroine of a dime novel. She prevented the escape of “Handsome Gray,” the most desperate criminal in Utah. She nearly lost her life at the hands of a lunatic. She is the only woman ever invited to visit “Robber’s Roost,” the rendezvous of a lawless gang of cattle thieves. She saved a woman thief from suicide.”

I read in one report that she had as many as 15 marriage proposals during her time as a Deputy Sheriff. She refused them all, believing they were more in love with her unusual role than with her.

Claire did eventually marry, though not many details are known about the groom beyond the fact that his name was William Wright and he was a salesman. By the time of their marriage she was no longer a Deputy Sheriff in Utah. Instead she was living in New York where she’d moved to be with her sister and mother and she’d taken a job once again as a stenographer.

I could find no record of what eventually happened to Claire, though there was a mention that she survived her mother who passed away in 1920.

There you have it, another very brief sketch of the trailblazing life of a brave and ahead-of-her-times woman. What struck you most about her? If you’d already heard of her, did you learn anything new, or do you have more to add to her story?



What’s in a Name?


             Most Popular names of the 1880s                                       Most Popular names of 2015

(According to Social Security Records)

Boy                 Girl                                                                            Boy                        Girl
John                Mary                                                                          Noah                    Emma
William            Anna                                                                          Liam                     Olivia
James              Emma                                                                        Mason                  Sophia
George            Elizabeth                                                                    Jacob                    Isabella
Charles            Margaret                                                                    William                  Ava

Twice this week I was asked how I came up with character names for my books. My answer was very carefully. To me, the name is everything. If I get the name right, the character comes alive. If the name is wrong the writing won’t flow.  Sometimes the vision I have for a character changes in the writing of a book, and I’ve had to change the name.

nameSince I write books set in the Old West it’s important that names reflect the times. A name also has to say something about the character and carry the tone of the book. After picking a name I check the census for the year my character was born to see if the name existed back then.  (I’ve also been known to yell the name out the door like I did when naming my children, just to see how it sounded).

Recently I read an article cautioning writers not to name a historical female character contemporary names like Madison. Had the writer checked he would have discovered that name was not as modern as he thought. Thousands of females with a first name of Madison showed up on the 1860 census. I know because I named a heroine Maddie, short for Madison (Did she madden the hero with her bold antics? You bet she did!)

For my heroes, I look for strong masculine names. This means choosing names with hard consonant sounds like Garrett, Rhett or Hunter.

I’ll also work in a soft consonant sound, usually in his last name. That tells the reader that no matter how arrogant or difficult the hero is, he has a vulnerable spot that the heroine will eventually uncover. The sheriff and hero in my next book Calico Spy is named Grant Garrison (January 2016). The s sound indicates there’s more to him than meets the eye.

As for the heroine: It depends what her role is. If she has a humorous bent I’ll name her accordingly. In Undercover Bride, the heroine’s name is Maggie Cartwright. The name Maggie reminds me of the word giggle so we know she’s got a light side. Her last name makes me think of cartwheels. That’s an appropriate vision as she turns the life of the hero upside down.

The letter K makes me smile so I tend to favor names with that letter. You just know that Kate Whittaker will be a fun character.

The current series I’m working on takes place in Two-Time, Texas (ah, the joy of naming towns). I worried that readers might have trouble keeping track of the town’s many residents over the course of three books. I solved the problem by giving minor characters nicknames. The butcher is known as T-Bone and the barber called Ben the BaBa.

I’m constantly on the lookout for character names and keep a notebook handy to jot down names that catch my eye. I study movie credits and concert programs. I even came up with a name for my spindle-shaped mayor at a traffic light when I stopped behind a Troutman Plumbing truck.

What are your favorite character names? Have you ever come across a character who shared your name? Do you ever wonder why a writer chose a certain name?


 Oh, no!  She shot the Texas Ranger.  Now what?

Margaret’s story: The Nutcracker Bride

12brides of ChristmasAmazon

What’s in a Name?

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BabyFor those of you who have children, do you remember the excitement (and perhaps the anxiety) that filled you as you began selecting names? It’s a weighty responsibility, knowing your child will be saddled with whatever you choose for the length of his/her life. No pressure. Ha!

Names are so important. We want our girls’ names to be beautiful and our boys’ names to be strong. Yet more than that, we want them to have meaning. Perhaps you chose a name because of the meaning inherent in that name’s origin. Or maybe you selected a name from your ancestry that carries significance for your family.

As an author, I’m faced with the same dilemma when selecting names for my characters. Not only do I want the names to sound good and roll easily off the reader’s tongue, but I love to give extra meaning to the names, perhaps a meaning that no one else will ever pick up on besides me.

TailorMadecover1For example, in my debut novel, my main characters are Jericho Tucker and Hannah Richards. Yes, I love using biblical names. They fit the historical setting perfectly, but in my hero’s case there was extra meaning involved. Jericho’s name was symbolic. Like the biblical city whose walls came tumbling down, Jericho or “J.T.” had built walls around his heart that needed to come down in order for him to open himself to the heroine’s love. And Hannah Richards? Well, her name had personal significance to me. You see, my dad died when I was only 16, and I wanted to honor him in some subtle way in my first published novel. His name was Richard, and it seemed fitting to let my heroine carry his name.head in the clouds

Gideon Westcott and Adelaide Proctor from Head in the Clouds had some play on their names that probably only I cared about, but they helped me relate to the characters as I wrote. Gideon Westcott was a British nobleman who came to Texas to run a sheep ranch. Gideon from the Bible used a sheep’s fleece to ask God for confimation of his mission. Adelaide Proctor was a teacher and teacher is often synonymous with the term proctor.

Short-Straw Bride CoverStealing The PreacherOf course, the Archer brothers from Short-Straw Bride and Stealing the Preacher were named for heroes from the Alamo – Travis, Crockett, Bowie (who went by Jim), and Neill. I had fun tying those into Texas history since my books are all set in Texas. But did anyone notice that the heroine who paired up with Crockett – Joanna Robbins – had a play on her name as well? Her father was an ex-outlaw who robbed stage coaches and trains. (Yes, I see your eyes rolling.)

One of my favorite sources for names is the Social Security website. You can search the most popular names by year as far back 1880 – ideal for a historical writer. You’ll find timeless names like Charles and Michael, Elizabeth and Mary. But then there are the names that make you wince like Elmer and Rufus, or Gertrude and Bertha (yes, all these made the top 100 in 1880). But what is really interesting from a historical perspective are the popularity of cross-gender names. Now, girls have worn boys’ names proudly for years, but back in the day, it’s a little scary how how popular girls’ names were for boys.

Here’s a few from the 1880-1885 lists – remember these are boy’s names:

Marion    Leslie    Pearl    Lynn    Pink    Mary    Loren    Madison    Cary    Fay    Allie    Sandy    Dee    Jean    Jules    Anna    Clair    Minnie    Kelly    Shirley.

Now, just because a name is historically accurate, does not mean it would make a great character name. I just can’t imagine naming my rugged cowboy hero Minnie or Shirley. And calling him Anna or Mary would just leave readers scratching their heads. Especially if the heroine was named Lou or Johnnie (popular female names during that time). Although . . . I have dear friends named Lacy and Jaye. Lacy is a very masculine Texas game warden while Jaye is his lovely wife. When they were first introduced at church, however, it took me weeks to get their names sorted out.

What kind of names do you enjoy most when you are reading novels?

What weird names have you run across in books or real life that make you cringe?