A Different Kind of Horse for a Different Kind of Cowboy

When I started writing HONEYMOON WITH THE RANCHER, I figured that a special kind of cowboy – an Argentine Gaucho – rode a special kind of horse. Turns out I was right, and today I’m going to introduce you to the Criollo.

This native horse of Argentina descends from the horses of the Iberian conquest. When parties went to explore and conquer South America, horses were shipped to the river Plate from Iberia, and as in all the Spanish and Portuguese conquests, they brought the toughest, hardiest horses they could. Conditions were tough on such voyages with insufficient food and water. Many horses died or were unable to regain health. Whether it was the primitive characteristics that cropped out under the wild conditions in the New World, or whether some of the shipments were of rather primitive Iberian horses in the first place, fact is that until fairly recently, the Argentine Criollo and the Criollo in general, bore a considerable resemblance to the ancient Sorraia wild horse of Portugal and Spain (zebro, or encebro).

During long campaigns with Indians, many horses escaped or were turned loose. Also after destruction of Buenos Aires by Indians, many horses were driven into the wild. Natural selection resulted in physical hardiness and the survivors became the progenitors of the Argentine Criollo breed.

The Criollo horse is still the choice of the South American cowboys, the best-known of which is Argentina’s gaucho. On cattle drives or gathers, the Criollos are usually ridden for a week, then returned to pasture and substituted by new ones. All along, the native grass is their only feed. Horses on the ranches are not necessarily registered Criollos, in fact, they seldomly are. The registered Criollo horse has become too valuable to be exposed to the dangers and hardships of many ranches, but those horses used for ranch work are still criollos in the original sense of the word. It is a bit confusing that the breed carries the name of a horse that, traditionally, was not a breed, but a wild or semi-wild horse without a pedigree. Now the pedigreed horses carry that same name: Criollo. In that respect, too, the situation is similar to that of the mustangs of North America, where mustang also described a wild-living horse without a pedigree, but registries exist that use the term to describe their registered animals.

Just like from the work of the North American cowboy, several events resp. contests have derived from the South American herdsmen’s work, some are similar to those in North America, some are quite unique. The Criollo horse excels in all of them.

Criollos of Central and South America were the basis for several specialized breeds, such as the different Paso breeds, or the Mangalargas of Brazil. If you’ve never seen a Paso in motion before, it’s a real treat. I never got to ride one but my sister did, and she said it was like gliding on a magic carpet.

The Criollo horse became only really known beyond its homeland through the famous ride by Swiss Aim Tschiffely with two Criollos from Buenos Aires to New York City. The two horses, Mancha and Gato, were 15 and 16 years of age, respectively, when he set out. He was received by the U.S. president in Washington when he arrived there three years later, after approx. 13,500 miles that took him, among other hardships, over the over 18,000 feet high Condor Pass in Bolivia. That both, Mancha and Gato, afterwards lived to be over 40 years of age is further testimony to the extraordinary toughness and vitality of the Criollo horse.
In some ways, I learned that the Criollo is practically a symbol for the strength and resilience of the Argentine people.

HONEYMOON WITH THE RANCHER is out now from Harlequin Romance.

*info provided by http://www.horseshowcentral.com/horse_breeds/criollo_horse/421/1

The Best Surprise Ever!

Have you ever given a surprise party?  Have you been the guest of honor at one?  Several months ago my sister-in-law called me about a surprise party for my brother’s 50th birthday. They live in Denver, so it’s been awhile since we’ve all gotten together.  No way would I miss it! But oh my goodness!  Keeping the trip to Denver a secret for that long nearly did me in.  I had visions of talking on the phone and blurting, “See you in September!”

Well, I managed to keep quiet and I’m so glad I did.  My sister-in-law planned the best-ever surprise. She sent my brother on a scavenger hunt with a series of clues. Instead of finding trinkets, he found people.  I was Clue #5. The clue directed him to the  place were he works and told him to look for a loved one.  He saw his wife first and said, “Where’s my clue?”

“I don’t have it,” she answered. “Keep looking.” 

My brother works at a western supply store. Among other things, they sell cowboy boots. I was seated on a bench with boots in hand. To anyone else, I looked like a customer trying on a pair of Tony Lamas.  They were cool boots but not nearly as cool as the moment my brother spotted me.  It’s not often you get a chance to completely shock someone, but that’s what happened.  I’ll never forget that moment…It was the highlight of my trip to Denver.

The good times just kept coming.  After the big birthday bash, we did a mini-tour of the mountains around Castle Rock.  Some of you will remember Bounty Hunter’s Bride and the final scene with Beau Morgan and outlaw Clay Johnson in a canyon. The book is set in Castle Rock, Colorado, so a lot of my research consisted of calling my brother for info on the terrain. A cowboy at heart, he’s ridden all over the area and he told me about a particular place on the Platte River.

On Sunday we piled into his big truck and and drove to the place he described.  What a glorious feeling to kick off my sandals, wade into the river and feel the reality of my characters from the book!  I could picture Beau riding up the river and then into a side canyon. The dirt was as red as I’d imagined, the walls of the canyon as steep.  Rocks jutted just like my brother had described.  Fiction came alive for me in those moments.

It also came alive in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Wyoming Lawman is on the shelves now.  The first chapter takes place in a fictional place called the Dryer Hotel.  Before the surprise party, my husband and I detoured to Cheyenne where we spent a night at the Plains Hotel.  The lobby has been maintained in the style fitting the year it was built.  I could practically see my hero and heroine sitting on the chairs while the heroine made braids for the hero’s five-year-old daughter.

The last stop on the Wyoming journey was the Wyoming Territorial Prison. My all time favorite hero, the Reverend John Leaf from Abbie’s Outlaw, spent time in this place. Online research provided the facts, but walking through the prison yard, seeing the monstrous walls and the dying grass, brought the place to life in a new way.  The cells were what I’d imagined, and I got to see where the women were housed.  Did you know the first chaplain for the prison was a woman?  She’s definitely blog-worthy, if not a heroine worthy of her own book.

So that’s my trip to Cheyenne and Denver . . . I had a great time combining research with a family celebration. About the boots I was trying on when I met my brother . . . I wear them all the time and I love them!

Available now at Amazon: Wyoming Lawman 

A Pass, a Town and a Story

South Pass is a bleak, sagebrush-dotted valley amid the high country of southwestern Wyoming.  The place isn’t much to look at but it played a vital role in the history of the Westward migration.  Here’s why.  South Pass is the lowest point on the Continental Divide between the Central and Southern Rocky Mountains.  At an elevation of 7,550 feet, the pass furnishes a natural crossing point of the Rockies and has historically been the route for the Oregon California Trail and Oregon Trail during the 19th century.  If you go there now, you can still see the deep ruts where the wagons passed.

South Pass City sprang into existence as a stage and telegraph station on the Oregon Trail during the 1850s. In 1866 gold was discovered in the vicinity, and a year later prospecting began. Prospectors and adventurers quickly arrived. Within a year the community’s population had swelled to about 2,000.

At one time or another, most of the West’s legendary figures would have passed through the place.  One of those who arrived in 1869 was Esther Hobart Morris. In 1870 she was the first woman in the U.S. to serve as a Justice of the Peace.  A  young barmaid who worked there came to be known later as Calamity Jane.

By 1870 most of the gold had played out, and the population of South Pass had dwindled to about 100.  With the coming of the Union Pacific Railroad, the area had also lost its importance as a migration route.  Over time, South Pass City became a ghost town.

At the end of the 20th century steps were taken to renew the community and turn it into a historic site. As a result the community today consists of two areas: South Pass City, in which a handful of residents live, and South Pass City State Historic Site, which preserves more than 30 historic structures dating from the city’s heyday in the 1860s and 1870s. In 1970, the community was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

So why am I telling you all this?  Because my new Western time-travel romance, CHRISTMAS MOON, now available in Amazon in Kindle format, is set in and around South Pass, both past and present.  Here’s a summary:

Anything can happen under a Christmas Moon…

Pregnant, unwed and down on her luck, history teacher Emma Carlyle is facing the worst Christmas of her life.  Needing some research for her master’s thesis on legendary Wyoming lawman J.D. McNulty, she makes a Christmas Eve drive to South Pass City, where J.D. was buried.  Heading home, she loses her way in a storm.  After her car vanishes, she ends up in 1870, half-frozen and in labor, on the doorstep of a remote mountain cabin.  When J.D. himself opens the door with a pistol in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other…well, let’s just say that sparks start flying.  These two lost souls are clearly meant for each other.  But there’s one problem.  Emma has studied everything about J.D.–and she knows he has only a few weeks to live.

Elizabeth Lane has penned a sensual time travel romp that will delight the reader from beginning to end.  

More about the story next month.  Meanwhile, you can find an excerpt and purchase link on my web site, http:// www.elizabethlaneauthor.com .

Hayin’ Season!

I’m a farm girl. Maybe that’s why writing westerns feels so good to me – I understand that soul-deep link to the land, I understand being at the mercy of Mother Nature and I know for certain that growing up on a farm is responsible for my work ethic.  Work hard, treat people honestly, be a straight shooter.  Everything else just kind of looks after itself.

There’s a problem though.  You see, even though I grew up in a farming community, and those oh-so-interesting smells were for the most part pleasant ones (except hogs and when people spread chicken manure, P.U!), I didn’t grow up with livestock.  My family were apple growers.  And I could go on at length about apple blossom time and pruning and how much I loved harvest time…

But I won’t. Because today I’m going to talk about haying.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve had to research haying a little bit.  Equipment has changed over the years, and my memory fades a little. I found it quite interesting, actually.  I looked at pictures of different kinds of balers and rakes.  I read about drying times before baling and different types of bales and the advantages of each. 

Where I grew up, most of the farmers made the small, rectangular bales but when I moved out west to Alberta, mostly there are the huge round bales and sometimes a new shape – bigger square bales.  I always kind of wondered the reasoning for the round bales, actually.  At home in Atlantic Canada, you hayed, you made small bales, and you brought the bales back to the haymow.  You never left them in the field.  With the large round bales, you have more hay with a smaller surface area so it protects from the elements, meaning you can leave the bales in the field.  There are coverings too.  Some that leave the ends open, protecting the surface but allowing airflow so they don’t ferment, and complete wrappings that allow the bale to become silage – rather than using a silo.

So I learned some interesting stuff about the process that I either didn’t know or had forgotten.

All that comes in handy when writing.  For instance, in the last book I handed in, my hero is rushing to get the first cut done and baled before the storm that is forecast hits.  That research was pretty useful figuring out how things would play out on a time scale.  I love that when I’m writing, I can manipulate the weather to suit my needs, by the way.

But there’s another component to haying that has nothing to do with function.  There are feelings.  It sounds funny, I know, but the feelings needed no research at all. For that I just drew on my own memory.

When I was growing up, our neighbours hayed and I remember lots of evenings seeing the wagons loaded with bales make their way into the farm yard.  They were loaded on to a chain-operated conveyor belt and stored in the loft.  Quite often this was in the hazy, hot evenings of July when the sky was pink and purple and the air smelled like clover and fresh cut grass.  There is something so satisfying about a harvest gathered in and even as a young child I could feel that.  There’s also the sinking feeling of dread when you see the storm clouds roll in, and you hold your breath praying there will be no hail.

But by far my favourite memory is sleeping with my window open, and hearing the drone of the hay dryer (a huge fan) at the barn next door.  Rather than disturb, it always lulled me to sleep.  That hay dryer meant that the hay was inside, safe and secure for the next year.  It meant it was summer, and school holidays. In some ways, having that hay dryer on meant everything was right in the world.  And I kind of like how when you’re writing, it’s the personal feelings that give your research context.  How facts can work to reveal character.

Happy Hay Season, everyone.

Hunting for A Hero in Wyoming . . . I Found Him And He Has A British Accent

victoria_bylin_bannerI’m still in the thick of revisions for The Outlaw’s Return (LIH, February 2011),  but the end is in sight. That means I’m thinking about the characters for my next book.  The heroine’s easy.  This is Book #4 in a four-book series, so Caroline already has a personality and a problem. She was widowed shortly after the War between the States, and she’s wanted a family of her own for years.

So who do I set her up with? Right off the bat, I’m ruling out a preacher, a lawman or an outlaw.  Those are the heroes in the first three “Swan’s Nest” books.  So what’s left?Cowboy painint
A doctor?   I did a lady doctor in Kansas Courtship, plus I want to get Caroline off to an isolated ranch. A newspaperman or a lawyer? Same problem as the doctor. A rancher is an obvious choice, but he has  to be unique in some way.  

 I went through all sorts of possibilities before I settled on a character I’ve never once considered. Dear sweet Caroline is about to meet a retired British officer.  It just so happens he’s settled in Wyoming with this two children and he needs a nanny for them.  He also needs a nurse because he’s ill. And he’s not easy to get along with. The man is bossy. Wyoming Cowboy silhouetteHe’s exasperating. He’s accustomed to being obeyed, and he’s terrified he’ll leave this earth without providing a mother for his two not-so-adorable children.  (Change that: the kids will be a little adorable…maybe “a lot” adorable by the time I’m done.)

So how does my British Army officer end up on a ranch in Wyoming in 1876?   History led me right into the perfect set-up for this story.  The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed settlers to claim 160 acres as their own.  The Powder River basin was rich with grass, largely untouched and just waiting for vast herds of cattle. Word traveled to the eastern United States and then across the Atlantic to Great Britain. Wealthy Englishmen began arriving with big ideas. TheWyoming Heroy invested in large herds that grazed freely on the open tracts of government land.

The first Englishman to run a big herd of cattle was Moreton Frewan in 1879. My book is set in 1876, but the conditions are workable for fiction.  I’m going to be doing a lot of research on Moreton Frewan. He came to Wyoming at the age of 25 and immediately made himself known. He built a two-story house near Kaycee that cowboys called Frewan’s Castle, and he had a knack for convincing his wealthy friends to invest in his cattle business.

Here’s a fun bit of trivia.  Frewan married a New York socialite named Clara Jerome. One of Clara’s sisters,  Jennie Jerome, became the mother of Winston Churchill.

This was quite a time in Wyoming. During the 1870s and into the 1880s, this rough-and-tumble landscape was a playground for visiting Englishmen and their families.  Big game hunts, fancy balls and lively parties were common.

As with all periods of history, events conspired to bring about change. More homesteaders arrived, claiming land and fencing it, so that the vast acreage was parceled out. With such laWyoming landscaperge herds, the pasturage was overgrazed. Investors wanted a better return, and the beef prices didn’t cooperate.  The biggest blow came with the winter of 1886-87.  It was disastrous. Ranchers lost up to 80% of their stock in the worst winter Wyoming had ever experienced.  By the 1890s, the British were pretty much gone from Wyoming.

I can hardly wait to get started on this book. My mind’s spinning ideas for scenes–a ball where my heroine feels insecure, a hunting trip gone awry–but first I’ve got to finish those pesky revisions. It’s frustrating, but I don’t really mind . . . Sometimes ideas are like spaghetti sauce. The longer they cook, they better they are.


JanetGoverG’day. Thanks, Sheilas, for having me at your place. (Sheila, by the way, is Aussie for a young, attractive woman. That’s us, isn’t it?)

 I’m Australian and you might be wondering what someone from Down Under is doing here. It’s about as far from Texas as you can get… isn’t it? You’d be surprised… there’s a town called Texas near where I grew up in the Australian bush. Far from making us strangers, in many ways, the places we live make us cousins. Here’s why – its part of The Man From Snowy River, a poem by Australia’s great bush poet Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson.OldBushSongs

So Clancy rode to wheel them — he was racing on the wing
Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stock-horse past them, and he made the ranges ring
With the stockwhip
, as he met them face to face. Recognise Clancy?

He might be a legendary Australian stockman, but he’d be equally at home riding the range in Texas. Your Texas.

The story of the Australian outback is very similar to that of the American west. It is a vast and rugged land – as dangerous as it is beautiful. The European settlers who came looking for a new life or looking for gold fought their way into the outback with bullock drays. They lived isolated from the world battling droughts and storms, dealing with lethal snakes, shocking heat and freezing cold.

That’s the history we share – and the heroes we share…

Which brings me back to Clancy. He wasn’t always chasing brumbies (the Aussie version of wild mustangs) – he was a drover too, guiding his cattle across the vast plains.

As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.


I know exactly what he means – that’s me in stockwoman mode in the photograph.

I write contemporary fiction, but time hasn’t changed the outback. Nor the people in it. A car doesn’t really make it easier to fall in love with the boy next door, when properties (we don’t call them ranches) are measured in hundreds of square miles.

In my first noTheFarmerNeedsAWifevel, The Farmer Needs A wife – I wanted to do a contemporary take on mail order brides. My bride might arrive in the outback in a plane, not a coach, but when that plane leaves, there’s still no going back.

Another possibility for finding true love in the outback is the Bachelor and Spinster Ball. All the singles from hundreds of kilometres around get dressed in their finest clothes and come to the ball hoping to meet prospective husbands and wives. I guess that sounds familiar to you too. The modern B&S BallsTheBachelorandSpinsterBall often also bring in young folk from the big smoke, who are there for the country music and the partying… but anything can still happen at a black tie ball under the stars.

In both books, I tried to capture the essence of Australia – the remarkable landscape, the strength of the people who live in the outback, and the feeling of community that develops in small towns.

I felt it as I was growing up – and even when I’m on the far side of the planet… I still feel it. I’m never all that far from Clancy.

He sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.

I guess you know what I’m talking about too, don’t y’all.

www.bookdepository.co.uk/  (free shipment to the US if you want to buy one of my books)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banjo_Paterson  More on Australia’s great bush poet.


Janet will be giving away a copy of The Farmer Needs A Wife and The Bachelor and Spinster Ball – one each to two lucky indiviuals who stop by to leave a comment today.

Elaine Levine: The Best of Both Worlds

elaine_levineWhat I love best about writing historical westerns is that I get to research the world of the west as it existed at the time of my stories. . . and then make up my own reality–using the truth and a bit of fiction.  My Men of Defiance series takes place in a make-believe town somewhere in the Laramie River Valley area of what is now Wyoming.  It’s an imaginary place inspired by my favorite Wyoming things and places–Vedauwoo, Laramie, Centennial, South Pass City, sun, wind and space. 

And now I have a new piece to add to the tapestry of Defiance: Ten Sleep, Wyoming. OutsideofTenSleep

Ten Sleep is a magical place that I had wanted to visit for quite a while.  Last summer, I talked my husband into a road trip.  After five hours of driving north over endlessly rolling, summer-brown prairie, we turned west and drove up (and up and up) into the Big Horn Mountains through beautiful alpine forests that were cool in late August, hinting of the winter to come.  It seemed that we no sooner crested the peak of a mountain than we were thrust down into an enormous canyon with hair-pin turns–such a shock after the hours of unchanging landscape on the highway.

The town was lush and green–a true oasis in the late summer dryness of Wyoming.  It was founded in 1882, but had long been the midpoint point between Indian camps–ten sleeps in either direction.  SouthPassCity1_smThere’s plenty to see and do in the area–a mammoth dig, petroglyphs, badlands, the Washakie Museum, shops, parks, camping, fishing and golf. 

But what was most interesting to me in Ten Sleep was the history behind the Spring Creek Raid that occurred in the area in 1909–the last major confrontation between cattlemen and sheep ranchers fighting for grazing rights in Wyoming’s opeDefiance14_Smn range. 

In that raid, seven masked men–all respected local cattlemen and ranch hands –attacked Joe Allemand’s sheep camp, burning their two sheep wagons, and killing Allemand, his partner, his nephew, hundreds of sheep and a few sheep dogs.   Public outrage at the event caused it to be the beginning of the end of the decades of violence between the two types of ranchers.

The hero of AUDREY AND THE MAVERICK, Julian McCaid, owns a sheep ranch outside of Defiance–smack, dab in the middle of prime cow country.  The tensions between the two types of ranchers is something the sheriff of Defiance uses to stir up trouble for McCaid, hoping the troubles that plague our hero’s ranch will cause him to fold his operation and head back east.  But McCaid has rediscovered Audrey . . . and he’s just not ready to leave yet! 

I hope you’ll like this next installment in my Men of Defiance series.  I had loads of fun writing it.  Sager and Rachel make an appearance, as do the lead characters from my next story, LEAH AND THE AVENGER–Leah and Jace.

audreyAndMaveriI’ll be giving away a copy of AUDREY AND THE MAVERICK to a lucky commenter today.  And please stop by my new website, http://www.romconinc.com/, to learn about the new romance reader convention I’m organizing with the help of my partners, Tiffany James and Michele Chambers.  It’s going to be held in Denver, Colorado, on July 9-11.  I’d love to see you there!

Warmest wishes–

Elaine Levine