The Women Who Ran the Range and a Giveaway!

Howdy, y’all! Heather Blanton here. I’ve got a new box set out this week from my Burning Dress Ranch series. The Burning Dress is a ranch run by women for women. Some would think that’s a tall tale. A woman can’t run a ranch.

If you think that, you’ve never met Kittie Wilkins, Margaret Borland, or Ellen Watson, to name a few ranching pioneers.

From the late 1880s and into the 20th Century, Kittie Wilkins was quite literally the Horse Queen of Idaho. At one point she had a herd of over 10,000 fine animals. And fine was the name of her game. Kittie’s horses were spectacular.

 

Her father was a horse trader. She picked up the skill from him and ran with it. She had an uncanny eye for horse flesh, a strong work ethic, a quick mind, and–probably most importantly–the respect of her ranch hands. Kittie is credited with negotiating the largest horse trade in US history. In one deal, she sold 8000 horses to England for use in the Boer War. She was also a darling of the press because of her business acumen and feminine ways.

 

In 1873, Margaret Borland owned a good-sized spread in Texas, but cattle in Texas weren’t worth much. About $8 a head. Up the road in Kansas, though, beef was bringing $23 a head! Margaret, not being a dummy, defied convention and organized her own cattle drive. What’s more, she also served as the trail boss! But she arrived at this situation more out of necessity than desire.

Widowed three times, she had to step up repeatedly if she wanted to keep her ranch running and her children fed. Each tragic death solidified in her the fortitude to fight on, as well as offered the opportunity for her to learn the cattle business. Surviving these trials by fire, Margaret became the only female rancher to run a cattle drive up the Chisholm trail.

And then there’s Ellen Watson, a young woman who took advantage of the Wyoming Homestead Act and procured 160 acres for herself in 1887. With Jim Averell, most likely her secret husband, she filed for squatter’s rights on land adjacent to his and continued expanding her herd. Jim ran a restaurant and general store, but Ellen tended to the ranch with the help of a few reliable hands.

Ellen was becoming a successful rancher when she ran afoul of neighboring cattle baron Albert Bothwell. Bothwell coveted Ellen’s land and eventually, his greed led to her death. Ellen and Jim were lynched by Bothwell in July of 1889. To protect the wealthy cattlemen involved in the murders, the press dubbed Ellen “Cattle Kate” and declared her a cattle thief and prostitute.

They might have taken her ranch, her life, and her reputation, but they didn’t take away her accomplishments as a fine rancher.

Women like these inspired Burning Dress Ranch. Everything the women do in my stories, from wrangling cattle to shoeing horses to bending iron on an anvil is real, true history. Just like my historical heroes, my fictional heroines come away with a new vocation, a bright future, and their happily ever after!

So, what do you think? Are women every bit the rancher a man can be? Maybe with different expectations and parameters? Is the idea believable?

 

The Burning Dress Ranch Box Set of all five books is available now, but for your chance to win it, leave a comment and tell me what you think about these feisty, determined women.

I’m giving my box set away to 5 lucky commenters!

You can find the box set on Amazon

Anne Bronte: A Writer Ahead of Her Time

Early women writers had to fight for their place in the literary world and that’s how it was for Anne Brontë who published under a male pseudonym.

No one can dispute that Anne Brontë (1820-1849) was a writer ahead of her time, even though she wasn’t as well-known as her sisters – Charlotte and Emily. She was born the last of seven children of Patrick and Maria Brontë. Her mother, Maria, died of tuberculosis when Anne was only one year old. Their first two children also died at age eleven with the same disease. Patrick encouraged his children’s imaginations and urged them to stretch their minds so it was no surprise that they all became poets, writers, and Branwell, his only son, a painter. Creativity ran high in all the children due to the early exposure to a multitude of literature pieces.

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne all attended Miss Wooler’s school in Roe Head, England then worked as governesses once they graduated. But all of them wrote poetry as a regular escape from work.

Anne Bronte sketched by her sister Charlotte in pencil. Permission granted by Wikipedia.

After much struggle of finding a publisher, Anne released her first book, Agnes Grey in 1847, the same year Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights made an appearance. But they were all published under male pseudonyms until 1850 after the deaths of Anne and Emily. Finally, Charlotte revealed their true identities.

Anne’s second book The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was published a year before her death and the subject matter of it as well as her first book made people uncomfortable. She shined a light on martial abuse, alcoholism, opium addiction, infidelity, class inequality, and the right of a woman to choose her own life. No one spoke of these things, they simply endured them. Her sisters Charlotte and Emily glossed over these subjects and tended to romanticize such issues of the day.

Anne died at twenty-nine years of age with two published books to her name and a body of poetry. Charlotte lived to age thirty-nine, the longest of all seven children. They all died of tuberculosis and it’s sad that their father outlived them all.

Of the sisters, Anne wanted to write the truth no matter how painful or that no one wanted to hear it. She felt she owed it to herself to expose the problems of the times and be truthful. That simply wasn’t done in her day. Literary scholars proclaimed her far ahead of her time and celebrate her books.

Here is what she wrote just days before her death: I have no horror of death: if I thought it inevitable I think I could quietly resign myself to the prospect … But I wish it would please God to spare me not only for Papa’s and Charlotte’s sakes, but because I long to do some good in the world before I leave it. I have many schemes in my head for future practise—humble and limited indeed—but still I should not like them all to come to nothing, and myself to have lived to so little purpose. But God’s will be done.

If you had lived back then, do you think you’d have read her books? I think I would’ve been curious. I loved Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights by her sisters.

Angela Christina Archer and Those Hidden Gems of History

The Fillies are thrilled to have Angela Archer aka London James come to talk about the incredible hidden gems in history. She has a giveaway as well.

Imagine being yanked from the comfort of your home (or, in most cases, your wagon) and thrust into an unfamiliar world where you don’t speak the language, understand the customs, or recognize the faces around you. It’s the stuff of novels, and yet, it was the reality that a lot of women faced when Native American tribes captured them.

I first stumbled upon these captivating tales while researching for my book, “A Terrible Glory,” which delves into the fascinating history of the Battle of Little Bighorn. The more I learned, the more I realized that these women’s stories were not just an essential part of history but also a testament to the incredible strength of the human spirit. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading about them; they were like hidden gems waiting to be unearthed, revealing their hardships, incredible strength, and resilience.

In the late 1800s, Native American tribes captured European and Euro-American women for various reasons – revenge, warfare, alliances, and even survival. These women, who were forcibly taken from their homes, faced unimaginable hardships. Yet, amidst the struggles, they had a spirit that defied even my imagination. Many of these women were adopted into the tribes that had captured them. They were given new names and began to assimilate into the tribe’s way of life, learning the language, traditions, and skills of the tribe.

Take the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, for instance. Captured by the Comanche tribe in Texas in 1836, she eventually became an integral part of the tribe. She married a Comanche chief and raised a family. Like many others, her transformation shows the incredible journey these women embarked upon during their captivity.

I won’t deny that many women didn’t have the same outcome. There were cases of abuse and murder, the dark side to the light side, just as with everything in history. But for some, the initial trauma of capture gave way to a period of learning and adaptation. Most of the women even brought their own skills with them, such as farming, cooking, and homemaking, to their captor’s communities, and, in return, they absorbed valuable survival skills and gained a profound understanding of Native American customs.

Olive Oatman’s story stands out as an example. Captured by the Yavapai tribe in Arizona in the 1850s, she was eventually adopted by the Mojave tribe. During her time with the Mojave, she learned how to adapt to the harsh desert environment and even embraced traditional tattooing as a part of her identity.

When some captives were eventually released or rescued, they faced the arduous task of reintegrating into society. The transition was far from smooth, as they had become deeply assimilated into their captor’s culture. Their own communities often viewed them with suspicion, fearing they had become too “Indian.”

Sarah Wakefield’s story is a testament to this struggle. Captured during the Dakota War of 1862, she defended the Dakota people during the trials that followed. Her actions led to accusations of treason and hostility from some in her own community.

And then there’s Mary Jemison, the famous author who was taken captive by the Seneca tribe during the French and Indian War. She chose to live the rest of her life as a Seneca woman and became known as “The White Woman of the Genesee.” Her story reflects the profound transformation captivity could have on one’s sense of self and belonging.

These women’s stories, so rich in detail and emotion, represent a complex and often overlooked chapter in American history. Not to mention, they challenge our preconceived notions about Native American-European relations.

In the end, they were remarkable survivors and often lived in two worlds, and their lives remind us of the resilience and the capacity for cultural exchange and understanding, even in the most challenging circumstances.

Question time! What part of the Native American history/culture interests you the most?

Leave a comment, and you might win an e-book copy of A Terrible Glory!

BOOK BLURB:

“It is observed that in any great endeavor, it is not enough for a person to depend solely on himself.” ~ Lakota Proverb

They called it a terrible glory and the last great battle for the American West. While the battle of the Little Bighorn was the last stand by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer against the Lakota tribes, to Lily Sinclair, it was the last stand between her old life and her new beginning.

After her in-laws squander away the family fortune, Lily and her husband, Alfred, head west to the mountains of Montana, the only land available to poor people and far away from the debts haunting them. When a band of Cherokee warriors attacks their wagon train along the way, they kill her husband and take her captive, selling her to a Lakota tribe for the price of several horses.

Widowed Lakota warrior Tahatan has vowed never to take another bride after his wife’s death. However, he soon finds himself forced into a marriage with the outspoken, yellow-haired Yankee who challenges every thought in his head.

With Custer’s sights set on the hidden gold in the depths of the Black Hills, the Colonel begins his warpath on the tribe villages. Can Lily overcome the demons of her past and defend Tahatan and his people? Or will she betray them all for the actions against her dead husband?

This book was previously published with the title: “Through the Eyes of a Captive”. When I first started writing under Angela Christina Archer, I thought I would write Historical Romance forever. I have since changed genres, and with this change, my Historical Romance titles now bear the name London James and are predominantly Clean & Wholesome, often graced with light Christian elements. “Through the Eyes of a Captive” has been re-envisioned under this lens and has been revised and edited. *****THAT SAID, I HAVE TO ISSUE A WORD OF CAUTION: this work delves deeper and darker than typical London James titles. Centered on the Battle of Little Bighorn, it paints a realistic, sometimes stark picture of hardships, fights over land, and war, including its toll on children. Despite its serious themes, there’s no profanity or explicit content.

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Minnie Freeman & the Schoolchildren’s Blizzard ~ by Pam Crooks

I’m a Nebraska girl, born and bred. Never lived anywhere else. So when I was browsing through one of my research books on American history, one story in particular, titled “Nebraska’s Fearless Maid,” caught my interest.

The winter of 1888 was brutal for its blizzards, and the one on January 12, 1888, was no different. The relatively warm morning showed no hint of snow, and Minnie Freeman was teaching school like any other day in her small sod schoolhouse in Mira Valley, Nebraska. Mid-afternoon, sudden 45 mph winds came up and blew the door in. As Minnie helped her thirteen pupils bundle up in their coats and hats, raging winds blew the windows in and ripped off the roof. Snow dumped from dark, dense clouds and whirled over the Nebraska and South Dakota prairie, quickly obliterating nearby landmarks.

Minnie could not simply wait out the storm. Her schoolhouse was falling apart, and she had to get the children to safer shelter. Having confiscated a ball of twine from one mischievous boy earlier that day, Minnie tied all the children together in a group, leashing them to her own body. Holding the youngest in her arms, a girl of about five, she set out into the gale-force winds with biting sleet and trudged 3/4 of a mile to the nearest home, all the while coaxing the children to keep walking and not to be afraid.

Minnie Freeman and her students in front of the sod house school.

In truth, exhaustion was setting in for Minnie from the rigors of holding the little girl, constant encouragements to the others, and the very real worries they could get lost. But thankfully, they made it to the farm house and safety.

Temperatures dipped to 40 degrees below zero that night, and the storm raged for twelve hours. Because of the storm’s timing during the school day, and that so many were caught unaware, the blizzard of January 12, 1888, has been dubbed the “Schoolchildren’s Blizzard” and is still remembered to this day.

Unfortunately, for some parents in the area, it would be several days before they could learn if their children survived–and some didn’t.

“I’ve never felt such a wind,” she told a reporter from the Ord Quiz, a local newspaper, shortly after the disaster. “It blew the snow so hard that the flakes stung your face like arrows. All you could see ahead of you was a blinding, blowing sheet of snow.”

Minnie was hailed a hero after the ordeal. Newspapers across the nation picked up her story and celebrated her actions, netting her – get this! – 200 proposals of marriage. School-children as far away as Boston wrote essays in her honor, but perhaps the most enduring accolade was a song and chorus written by William Vincent in her honor.

Sheet music for the Victorian parlor song by the composer William Vincent, “Thirteen Were Saved; Or Nebraska’s Fearless Maid.”

Today, Mira Valley is a ghost town located in north-central Nebraska, near present-day Ord, and Minnie’s heroics is a testament to the selfless dedication teachers show every day.

Have you ever experienced a scary weather-related incident?

Two Astounding Women and their Sidesaddle Jumping Records

When I first started riding as a youngster in Arizona, like so many, I began with a good old Western saddle. But that didn’t last long. I had a fascination with the English style of hunter/jumper. My mom was surprised hut decided to indulge this temporary fad of mine — which wound up lasting a decade before I switched back to Western because, well, my boyfriend at the time was a cowboy. No judging, okay 🙂

While people probably think of jumping horses as eloquent and graceful, like dressage, and not as rough and tumble and difficult as Western, jumping tall fences and walls is, in fact, quite hard and requires a lot of skill from both the rider and the horse. So, when I recently stumbled upon this story about Esther Stace, an Australian woman who set the sidesaddle jumping record of 6’6” in 1915, I was naturally intrigued. Especially when I learned her record stood for an impressive 98 years until October 24, 2013.

Susan Oakes, the woman who eventually broke the record, is an Irish equestrian who trained extensively for her event. Susan not only broke the record, she beat it by two inches, clearing a wall 6’8” high. Wow! I mean, how does an animal weighing 1200 pounds get that much air?

It wasn’t until months later that The Guinness World Records contacted her to say they wanted to verify and recognize her record. Fortunately, Susan had her jump videoed and photographed and several officials presents. She is now and still the proud holder of the record these past five years. Let’s see how long she can go.

Myself, I can’t imagine jumping a 6’8” wall, much less in a sidesaddle. My hat off to these incredible women — and their horses. What an amazing accomplishment.

Women and the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition

Today we welcome Linda Shenton Matchett to the Petticoats and Pistols Corral.

In December 1866, the American Civil War had been only been over for a little more than eighteen months. Tensions still ran high in many areas of the country. But one man was already looking toward the future. In ten years, the country would celebrate its centennial, and he had visions of a grand event, one that included nations from around the globe.

John L. Campbell, a professor at Wabash College in Indiana contacted Philadelphia Mayor Morton McMichael and suggested that his town would be the perfect place to hold the centennial. It would take four years of discussions, studies, and committee meetings, but the Philadelphia City Council finally agreed in January 1870. Another year was needed for the federal government to pass a bill to create a Centennial Commission. Oh, and by the way, the US government would not be liable for any expenses.

Douglas Shenton

A force to be reckoned with Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, great-great-granddaughter of founding father Benjamin Franklin, chaired the Women’s Centennial Exposition Committee. Tasked with selling subscriptions to raise $1 million, she “led an army of women through the neighborhoods.” They secured the pledges in a mere two days. In addition, she collected 82,000 signatures and obtained letters from all over the country that convinced Congress to lend $1.5 million to the exposition.

Building commenced, and eventually there would be 200 hundred buildings spread over the 450 acres of Fairmont Park. However, eleven months prior to the exhibition, Elizabeth was informed that the Main Hall no longer had room for women. Incensed, she once again turned to her committee who raised more $31,000 in four months to build a one-acre women’s pavilion that would eventually house seventy-four inventions patented by women, including a steam engine.

Douglas Shenton

Another woman saw the country’s one-hundred anniversary as the perfect place to present her “Declaration of the Rights of Women.” Wyoming had granted women the right to vote and hold office in 1869, followed by many other states and territories, but those rights did not carry to the federal level, and Susan B. Anthony had been criss-crossing the country for more than twenty-five years campaigning for a constitutional amendment.

Pixabay/David Mark

Prohibited from speaking at the July 4th celebration, she simply walked down the aisle of Independence Hall in the middle of Richard Henry Lee’s speech. Grandson and namesake of one of the Declaration of Independence signers, he watched as she handed the scroll tied in a navy-blue ribbon to the host, then turned and made her way out of the building, distributing copies to the clamoring crowd as she went. Outside in front of hundreds of people, she read the document in its entirety as the remaining copies were handed out. Newspapers covered the event and printed portions of the document. Word spread, and newspapers outside of Philadelphia picked up the story. Miss Anthony’s plan worked. She’d escalated visibility to the cause.

Unfortunately, she would not live to see the ratification of the 19th amendment forty-four years later.

Maeve’s Pledge

Pledges can’t be broken, can they?

Finally out from under her father’s tyrannical thumb, Maeve Wycliffe can live life on her terms. So what if everyone sees her as a spinster to be pitied. She’ll funnel her energies into what matters most: helping the less fortunate and getting women the right to vote. When she’s forced to team up with the local newspaper editor to further the cause, will her pledge to remain single get cropped?

Widower Gus Deighton sees no reason to tempt fate that he can find happiness a second time around. Well past his prime, who would want him anyway? He’ll continue to run his newspaper and cover Philadelphia’s upcoming centennial celebration. But when the local women’s suffrage group agrees that the wealthy, attractive, and very single Maeve Wycliffe act as their liaison, he finds it difficult to remain objective.

Maeve’s Pledge is part of the multi-author series Suffrage Spinsters but can be read as a standalone story. Grab your copy today and curl up with some history, hope, and happily ever after.

GIVEAWAY:  Linda attended the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee and was astonished at the displays, including technology that at the time seemed only possible in science fiction, but is now part of our everyday lives. To be entered in the random drawing fore-book copy of Maeve’s Pledge, leave a comment about a time when you attended an event (large or small) that impacted you in some way.

Linda Shenton Matchett writes about ordinary people who did extraordinary things in days gone by. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, she was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry (of Star-Spangled Banner fame) and has lived in historical places all her life. She is a volunteer docent and archivist at the Wright Museum of WWII and a former trustee for her local public library. She now lives in central New Hampshire where she explores the history of this great state and immerses herself in the imaginary worlds created by other authors.

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Heather Frey Blanton Finds Adventure in Cripple Creek!

Serendipity Never Ceases to Amaze Me

One thing about history: looking back, it’s easy and almost scary to see how the tiniest change could have derailed entire destinies.

One of my favorite stories of serendipity is that of Mary Catherine “Mollie” Gortner. In 1890, she and her family moved to Colorado Springs from the gentle, rolling hills of Iowa. Her husband was on the scout for new opportunities and challenges. Mollie was always up for an adventure. She and her children, who were older, were eager to see some new sights.

After the Gortners were settled, the announcement of a massive gold discovery in Cripple Creek beckoned to her oldest son, Perry. He took a job there in the spring of 1891 as a surveyor. The burgeoning boom town turned wild and wooly almost overnight and Mollie worried about her young, innocent son. She arranged a visit for the fall, packed up some care packages for him and headed up the mountain. A 4-day wagon trip.

Mollie Gortner

During one of Perry’s surveying jaunts over the summer, he had spotted a huge herd of elk and knew his mother would want to see the magnificent animals. They often hung about only three hundred or so yards beyond the first gold strike in Cripple Creek—the Gold King Mine. Perry and his mother packed a lunch and struck out for a warm, September hike up to what had become known, ironically, as Poverty Gulch.

A worse name no one could have imagined.

A bit winded after the high-elevation walking, Mollie sat down on a rock to wait for the herd to pass by. Nothing in particular drew her to that spot. In fact, she gave it very little thought.

Then, glancing around, she noticed a rock that “winked” at her. Curious, she took another rock and struck off a piece.

A chunk of pure gold cut through with bits of quartz fell into her hand.

Has any discovery of gold ever been easier or more serendipitous?

Hearts pounding, hands sweating, she and Perry hammered free a few more chunks, hid them in her skirt, and raced to the assayer’s office to file the claim. The clerk balked at handing the paperwork to a woman. Perry was a little befuddled on how to respond to this objection. Mollie solved the problem for both men. Without a second’s hesitation, she snatched up the forms, signed her name on the dotted line and raised her chin defiantly.

In Colorado in 1901 a woman had the legal right to own land and file a claim. The clerk didn’t have a leg to stand on, other than his chauvinism. He had a choice at that moment. He saw the fire in Mollie’s eyes and filed the claim in her name. Henry, her husband, didn’t give a wit about whose name the mine was in. He was supportive of her ownership and, to say the least, delirious about the lucky discovery.

The Mollie Kathleen mine is still in operation to this day. Perry ran it for Mollie from 1901 until his death in 1949.

Mollie died in 1917 but she will forever be known as the first woman to discover gold in Colorado, and the first woman to own a mine in the state.

Just think, what if she had sat on a different rock?

Have you ever had a moment like Mollie’s? The kind in which the slightest hitch could have redirected your life from where it is now? What do you think about her serendipitous discovery?

Comment for your chance to win one of two copies of my book, A Lady in Defiance, which was recently optioned for a television series. One of the characters in the book is named Mollie. It’s a bit foreshadowing.

Thanks for reading!

 

A LADY IN DEFIANCE

Charles McIntyre owns everything and everyone in the lawless, godless mining town of Defiance.

When three good, Christian sisters show up, stranded and alone, he decides to let them stay. The decision may cost him everything, from his brothel…to his heart.

Naomi Miller, angry with God for widowing her, wants no part of Defiance or the saloon-owning, prostitute-keeping Mr. McIntyre. It would seem, however, that God has gone to elaborate lengths to bring them together. The question is, “Why?” Does God really have a plan for each and every life?

A romance based on true events, A Lady in Defiance deftly weaves together the relationships of the three sisters and the rowdy residents of Defiance.

Amazon Link

Heather Blanton Finds An Angel on the Loose

In my new book releasing today, Penelope, Book 6 in the Love Train series, my heroine has to pretend to be a nun. This is, of course, a substantial obstacle to the hero who fights falling in love with her. He has to wonder, though, what kind of a nun can’t keep her veil on and doesn’t know her Bible? But when called upon to help an abused Indian girl, Penelope rises to the task with plenty of heart.

The way this story went put me in mind of a young Catholic girl who, while she didn’t don a habit, impacted the West forever with her faith.

In 1850, at about the age of five, Nellie Cashman immigrated to Boston from Ireland with her sister and widowed mother. The three spent almost fifteen years together there, but then relocated west to San Francisco around 1872. Nellie and her mother, both of whom apparently had an adventurous streak, decided to move on to the bustling, untamed mining town of Pioche, NV. They only stayed a few years, but Nellie was deeply involved with

the Catholic church there, helping with fundraisers and bazaars.

When her aging mother decided Pioche was a little too wild for a senior citizen, she and Nellie returned to San Francisco. Nellie, however, didn’t stay. She left her mother with her married sister and headed north alone to British Columbia to another rough-and-rowdy mining town. She opened a boarding house in the Cassiar District and tried her hand at mining.Now, most girls in this situation, hanging around with such an unsavory crowd, might get into mischief, forget their morals. Herein lies the quirky thing about Nellie: she loved to help people, sometimes through hell and high water…and avalanches.

In the winter of 1874-75, Nellie took a trip to Victoria where she helped establish the Sisters of St. Ann Hospital. Over the coming decades, she would continue to be a stalwart supporter of this hospital and several others. She is most famous, though, for what she did upon leaving Victoria.

Traveling back to Cassiar, she heard a blizzard had stranded dozens of the folks from the district. They were trapped, hungry, and experiencing a scurvy epidemic, to boot. Nellie immediately hired men and sleds, acquired medicine and supplies and started out for Cassiar. It took the group 77 days in unimaginable conditions to reach the miners. Nellie then worked tirelessly to nurse the folks back to health.

Her feat was so astounding, so fearless, the story was picked up by the newspapers. With good cause, she came to be known to the miners as their “Angel of the Cassiar.”

Nellie was a legitimate legend.

She was also a restless girl, constantly on the move from one raunchy mining town to the next. After the death of her sister, she continued to feed her wanderlust, but with five nephews and nieces in tow. To keep food on the table, she bought and sold restaurants, and even owned and worked her own claims.

She spent several years in Tombstone, AZ where she rubbed shoulders with larger-than-life figures like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Nellie’s faith, however, was as ingrained on her heart as cactus on the dessert. Even in wild-and-wooly Tombstone, she worked to build the city’s first hospital and Roman Catholic church.

Nellie worked tirelessly to make the world a better place and still managed to raise five upstanding citizens while keep her mines working. When she passed away in 1925, she did so in the Sisters of St. Anne hospital that she had funded for nearly fifty years.

Today Heather is giving away 5 copies of Penelope! For a chance to win one, tell Heather what ways you think we can make an impact in our local communities or neighborhoods.

Buy PENELOPE on Amazon!

The Mother of Invention

I’m making one of the three sisters in my upcoming new series an inventor.

It’s 1870-ish California. The three girls are the daughters of a wealthy man who owns a mountain full of forests and he’s raised his daughters to take over.

In my research into a new area…I’ve never set a book in California before. And a new industry…logging. (relax there are cowboys!) I found that this age is just amazingly full of inventions.

The oldest daughter is an inventor. She’s other things, too…but she already has two patents at age twenty-one and has a head just brimming with ideas.

Highly educated by her father, always treated with respect, her brilliance acknowledged by her parents, she’s a little shocked when circumstances force the three sisters to run from an evil man and hide out acting as servants.

Well, they are lousy servants. As smart as they are, they realize how completely all these basic needs have been met all their lives while they were doing ‘important stuff’. And now someone expects them, based on their disguises, to know how to mend clothes, darn socks, do laundry and cook. These three brilliant women are incompetent and they start to understand that they’ve really not respected enough the people who have seen to all their basic needs all their lives.

Anyway, back to the inventor. While other people cook and clean and care for her, she’s wild to invent things.

And in the research I did for her I just found SO MANY INVENTIONS. This was a crazy age for newer, more modern inventions. (I suppose that’s true of every age though?)

The progress they were making with oil and gas, with engines, with updating everything. There were so many small (and yet HUGE) inventions. The undercarriage of a railroad train, the braking systems, the use of water power, steam power, wind power. And now here she is, Michelle, hiding from a bad man and expected to know how to turn a haunch of venison into supper for twenty people and all she can do is hope to not poison or starve everyone.

I really loved this research. Oddly enough, the strange, small inventions caught most of my attention. The most rudimentary automobiles (which were modified bicycles but with motors, but BAD motors) had been invented. Then with one tiny speck of progress at a time, I read somewhere there were over 100,000 patents for cars by the time Henry Ford created his assembly line, crude first steps became what we have today.

I read for a long time about the four stroke cycle engine, which is the engine inside a car, at it’s most basic at least, was theorized for a decade before someone managed to build a working model. My heroine is fascinated by that and, later in the series, when her husband is getting VERY TIRED of her blowing stuff up, especially herself, we mention that’s she’s working on that theory.

Anyway, necessity is the mother of inventions but for me and this book? Inventions were the mother of the necessity of me writing this story.

Book #1 coming in February, this is the little sister who likes dynamite. I’ll write about that next! The Element of Love 

Then next book comes in July #2 Inventions of the Heart

And finally next October, not available for preorder yet, we’ll have A Model of Devotion for the sister who likes building bridges.

Lots to talk about during an age that is just full of progress.

 

Was she a heroine, a villainess, or just a fool?

By Heather Blanton

 The life of Ellen Watson, aka Cattle Kate, was defined for us by greedy cattle barons, and dutifully reported by a cowardly, boot-licking press. According to these men, Ellen was a prostitute, a cattle thief, and a fornicator. She traded sex for cows and had no compunctions about doing a little cattle rustling on the side.

All that was a smear campaign to protect the cattle barons.

So, what was the truth about Ellen Watson? For one thing, she was a woman with a brain in her head and a fire in her eye.

At 18, Ellen married an abusive drunk who beat her with a horse whip. She put it up with it for a couple of years, then left the loser and filed for divorce. Truly a rare thing in 1883. Strong-willed and stubborn, she moved away to escape the ex. Life took her from Nebraska, to Denver, to, finally, fatefully, Wyoming. She made her living alternately as a seamstress and cook. There is no evidence she ever worked as a prostitute at any time in her life. She did drink, smoke, and cuss, though.

She met Jim Averill while she was cooking at the Rawlins House. Jim had a road ranch on his homestead, catering to travelers and cowboys. Ellen worked as his cook and was paid for her time. She eventually bought her own land—adjacent to Jim’s—started her own ranch and acquired her own legally registered brand. All while she and Jim were courting.

The couple applied for a marriage license in 1886, but never filed it. Homesteads were limited in size per family so it would have been to their benefit to keep the marriage a secret. Ellen also took in two young boys who came from abusive homes and they, in turn, worked her ranch.

Ellen’s independent ways brought her into direct conflict with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and a neighboring rancher named Bothwell. Still big on the open range way of ranching, he despised Ellen and Jim’s piddly ranches. For nearly two years, Bothwell saw to it that the couple were threatened, harassed, and watched incessantly by riders from the WSGA.

Not interested in kowtowing to the cattle barons, Jim wrote fiery letters to the newspapers, decrying the men’s greed and tyranny. Ellen just kept on ranching, and to the devil with anyone who didn’t like it. Eventually, Bothwell ran out of patience.

On July 20, 1889, Ellen and Jim were accused of rustling cattle from his ranch. He and some his riders took the couple to a gulch and hung them from a stunted pine, not more than two feet off the ground. Witnesses said Jim begged for mercy, but Ellen went down cussing and swinging.

At the time of her death, 28-year-old Ellen had 41 head of cattle, a little over 300 acres, and a tenacious fighting 

spirit that burnt bright right up to the last second of her life. If there is any justice here, it is that we remember her to this day, not the cowards who hung her.

My book, Grace be a Lady, is set during the Johnson County War, in the aftermath of Ellen’s murder. I’ll give two winners paperback versions of the book. Just comment on Ellen and tell me what you think of her life and death. Was she a heroine or a fool? Did she bring this on herself? Should she have sold out and left Wyoming?

Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for one of the 2 print copies of Grace be a Lady.

Buy Grace be a Lady on Amazon.

Find Heather online at Heather Blanton