The Old West remains an iconic part of our history, conjuring up images of cowboys, saloons, and horse thieves. And then the British aristocracy showed up …
But why? Well, The Union Pacific railroad stretched to Fremont, NE by 1865. Construction continued, and by mid-1867 it reached Cheyenne and joined the Central Pacific in Promontory in 1869, connecting the East and West coasts of the US. Cheyenne became the hub for all those railroad workers, and all of them had to be fed. The wintry grasses proved to be exceptional fodder for the ranchers’ cattle, and they quickly realized they could make a successful business in that region. When the railroad took the cattle east to the markets, that set the stage for Wyoming to become a major cattle ranching area. Then, in 1880, the steamer Strathleven embarked on a voyage with a new kind of cargo: meat preserved with mechanical refrigeration. This was the first time British people had ever encountered the process of ranching. And some were hooked.
Can you imagine an earl or baron chasing after cattle? Well, they did, and some were part of the Wyoming cattle industry from about 1867 to 1887. Though their stint as cowboys was fleeting, their imprint on the area left a lasting impression. It’s one of the reasons I have two fictional towns with British residents. One town, Clear Creek, has a huge cattle ranch nearby owned by a British family, the Cookes. And my newest series, Love in Apple Blossom, also has some British residents. The result of six brothers on holiday in America who happen upon the little town. An entire posse was killed by an outlaw gang and some of the women had to step up to take on their father’s, brother’s, or husband’s roles. Being gentlemen, the brothers stay to help a few of them out before returning to England.
But what, other than the lure of ranching and cowboy adventures, brought the British to America? Well, in short, the British gentleman was passionate about hunting. This was one of the things that drew them to America in the first place. They wanted adventure, excitement, and America had plenty of it. There was nothing like the thrill of a good hunt (weeks and sometimes months’ worth) to bring the English aristocracy to America. But there were other reasons some came, and it wasn’t to chase after elk or bear.
Desperate to escape the freezing grasp of the British Isles, some ventured to the Wild West in search of new health. Others, like Oliver Henry Wallop, scion of an earl, saw the need for a cavalry in the Boer War and set off to Wyoming. He partnered with Malcolm Moncrieffe, progeny of a Scottish baronet, and ran an enourmous 2700-acre ranch that brought the first thoroughbreds to the Western front. In Colorado, another British earl established a ranch and resort not far from Estes Park; a sprawling reminder of his former glory from across the pond. My British family in my fictional town of Clear Creek traveled West to Oregon not for their health, but to start a cattle ranch and ended up as pig farmers. Things obviously didn’t go as planned, but in the end, they fulfilled their dream.
On the other hand, there were some Britannic settlers in America that soon found themselves in a grueling struggle to make a living on the ranches. Cattle needed to be tended to and branded, while horses had to be fed and groomed. There were also everyday ranch chores and other work and dash it all, no servants to help. Even worse, some ranches were a hundred miles or more away from the nearest train station. Rain turned dirt roads into mud pits in summer and unpredictable snowstorms in winter. Both made travel hazardous. Is it any wonder so many high-tailed it back to England?
Thankfully, the Cooke family didn’t, and have appeared in numerous book series of mine and in not only my other pen name’s books, but other author’s books as well. I have a book on the British aristocracy holidaying in America in the 1800s, which was one of the things that inspired me to create a British family in the old west years ago. The rest is history!
Do you like reading about characters from other countries settling in the old west? I’m giving away one free e-copy of my latest release, Wooing the Undertaker, Love in Apple Blossom, Book 4 to one commenter. Here’s a little more about the book:
A Lonely Undertaker
A Man Determined to Go Home
And One Little Library …
After her father was killed by outlaws, Jean Campbell was forced to take on the role of undertaker. Like so many other women in Apple Blossom, she did what had to be done after a devastating tragedy took the lives of an entire posse. But months later, things were becoming hard, and she wasn’t sure what to do. And that’s when theycame to town. Six English brothers who took it upon themselves to help those in need. And so far, three of the brothers had found love. But Jean knew that wasn’t about to happen to her. After all, who wanted to woo an undertaker?
Wallis Darling wasn’t looking for love. He was looking for a way to back to England and with as many of his brothers as possible. Problem was, three were already planning on marrying, and two of them had decided to stay. If Wallis’ older brother Phileas fell in love and stayed on, their father’s dreaded title and estate would fall to him! The thought made him shudder. He liked his freedom and had to make sure his older brother didn’t come under love’s spell. But how? Then he got an idea. What if Phileas thought Wallis was in love? Would he hightail it back to England to do his duty? Wallis hoped so. Now all he had to do was find someone willing to fake a courtship. And then of course, talk her into it.