I’m a city girl who has always loved stories about the west. Most of what I learned about ranching and cowboys came from research books like these. They taught me what everyday life was like to a rancher in olden times. I came to rely on these books for insight and they proved invaluable to me as I slowly morphed from writing western historical heroes to more modern day heroes of the west.
Surely the truth about ranching and cowboys is far less glamorous than is portrayed. The work was hard, the days grueling and long. Mexican vaqueros were well versed in ranching and taught their counterparts about horses, grazing, feed, cutting and cattle drives. They were the first true ranchers and cowboys of the American West.
Soon western film and TV stars became household names and introduced to society a whole different image of the rancher and cowboy. Roy Rogers was my personal favorite. I had a fan girl crush on him back in the day while watching reruns!
Bump it up a few years and our image of ranchers/cowboys became much more romantic and women fell in love with the likes of Rowdy Yates aka Clint Eastwood.
And then of course, John Wayne came on the scene too and brought with him grit and power and a sense of national pride. There’s something all American about a rancher working the land.
A generation passes and by now our image of ranchers and cowboys has altered once again to a well educated, smart about the environment, savvy businessman or businesswoman. That’s Scott Eastwood, btw, son of Clint. The recent success of Pioneer Women too, shows a real interest not only about great country food, but about cowboys and ranch living and women!
One thing is for certain the appeal of ranchers and cowboys remains constant in the hearts and minds of most people and the romanticism lives on. I bet you wouldn’t guess by the cover that my newest release is all about a small town rancher! (Yes, that’s my cowboy hunk, Code Matthews) The Bachelor Auction he gets finagled into brings him up close and personal with his ex-crush and one-time best friend. Not good, but oh, did I mention this rancher gets his Happily Ever After!
Post a comment here about what fascinates you most about cowboys and/or ranchers and one blogger today will win a book of your choice from my available list!
We’re heading towards Valentine’s Day and I’m in the thick of writing my next, and final, Taming of the Sheenans story, set in Marietta, Montana and I love this series because it celebrates tough rugged men and equally strong women.
The series started with five brothers that grew up together on the Sheenan ranch in Paradise Valley and each of the brothers (including the lost brother, Shane, that shows up this April) is a true alpha hero.
An alpha hero is my favorite hero to write, and read. He isn’t defined by money or success. He might be powerful and successful, but that’s not what sets him apart.
What makes him riveting reading is that he is almost always a masculine, primal male. He doesn’t need to be rich, but he must have the means to provide for his woman. And he can and will, because he is strong, mentally and physically.
But alpha males are not perfect. They make mistakes…maybe even more than other men…and that’s because they take risks and they aren’t quitters and they refuse to walk away from a fight where something important is at stake.
These heroes may have painful pasts, too, and because they’ve had to overcome challenges and tragedies, they can be overly confident. Possibly arrogant.
But when they love, oh how they love. Once an alpha hero finds his match…his mate…he will never be content with another woman.
I adore reading and writing alpha heroes because they sizzle and are sensual in bed (whether they seduce the heroine before marriage or wait til after), but he’s complex, and he demands more from his woman. He doesn’t want a doormat. He wants an equal, and he’s going to demand a lot from his woman. Maybe even in bed.
A great alpha hero must know how to satisfy a woman. He must focus on her, and focus on her pleasure, ensuring she is going to have the most sensual, satisfying experience of her life. He’s a man that’s gifted in foreplay, and can, and will, put her needs before his.
Readers that enjoy love scenes, want to read love scenes where the hero does satisfy the heroine…but not just sexually, emotionally, too. A great love scene requires connection and time. In real life people are rushed and tired and there might just not be enough foreplay, but in a romance novel, the hero better make sure he has endless time and energy to please his woman.
And thank goodness this same hero doesn’t ignore his ranch responsibilities. We don’t read about him leaving his socks or boots all over the bedroom. His dirty Wranglers aren’t crumpled on the bathroom floor. His truck isn’t filled with junkfood wrappers. Even better, he always takes care of the livestock and the chores so that she doesn’t have to pick up his slack. No, the great alpha hero in our western romances is concerned about making life better for her. He isn’t there to make life harder, but easier.
I love that.
I love that in a romance, we get a man who wants and needs his woman, but doesn’t want her trapped in the laundry room, or the kitchen.
Do you have a favorite type of hero? What makes him special? I’d love to hear what kind of man makes you swoon! (He can be real or fictional!) Leave a comment for a chance to win a $15 gift card from Amazon!
Winner announced on the 10th!
PS: In case you’re interested in catching up with my Sheenan Brothers, Book 2, The Tycoon’s Kiss is on sale for .99 until Feb 8th so be sure to get your download soon!
First I want to say thank you to all the members of the Pistols & Petticoats blog for inviting me to visit with you all today. Cowboys have been near and dear to my heart since I was five and fell in love for the first time.
The object of my affection was, of course, a cowboy. He was tall, dark and handsome (5’9″ is tall to a five-year old!). I followed him everywhere, imprinting on him like a duck.
When he went away again, I was bereft. Fortunately for me, I grew up in a time when every other show on television was a western. I was enthralled.
I was also selective. One cowboy above all set my heart to beating faster — Jess Harper, the second in command at the stage stop on Laramie. (photo attribution to ABC Television) Jess was played by Robert Fuller who understood the finer points of playing a cowboy hero. He had the tall (well, taller than me), dark and handsome bits down pat. He had a gravelly baritone voice that still makes my ears tingle just to think about. Mostly, though, he understood that Jess had to live by his own moral code. The writers of Laramie seemed to understand this, too. It was a western ahead of its time in that respect.
I loved Jess not just because he was gorgeous in a rugged, rough-hewn way. I loved him for the choices he made. What Jess chose to do in any given situation was not always what the law decreed was proper. It was what deep down in his gut, he believed was right. And he arrived at that conclusion after a lot of soul searching. He anguished over the decisions he made.
Even as a child, I loved an anguished hero.
I wasn’t the only one. At a writers’ conference a number of years ago, I was tipping back in my chair, dozing a bit and contemplating lunch, when western historical author Jessica Douglass talked about cowboy — particularly Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza who she always fantasized was “her brother” with whom she had great adventures. But the real hero of her fantasies, she went on, was Jess Harper who was “definitely NOT her brother.”
All four legs of my chair hit the ground with the thump. Jess was two-timing me with her! I was appalled. So was she. But eventually we agreed that we both had excellent taste in men — and cowboy heroes — and that Jess was the quintessential cowboy hero.
We even spoke at the RWA National Conference on the topic of My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, because of Jess Harper whom Robert Fuller had made so real.
Preparing the talk we decided to send Robert Fuller a letter asking if he would like to comment on the character he’d played so well. Clearly a fan girl heart beats in most of us long after the cowboy has ridden off into the sunset.
One December afternoon, a month or so later the phone rang right when all the telemarketers and political pollsters in Iowa regularly ring. I was not enthused. Imagine my surprised when, instead of a pollster, a remarkably recognizable baritone said, “This is Robert Fuller.”
Believe me, inside this grown-up otherwise responsible adult mother of four, a 13 year old fan girl was hyper-ventilating.
But I managed to marshal my wits and most of my brain cells and we chatted about Jess. I was gratified to learn that he shared our view about Jess’s need to create and adhere to his own moral code. He thought it was the best role he’d ever had. He recognized and articulated his feeling about Jess’s code of honor needing to be personally arrived at. He was as passionate about it as Jess was.
Talking to him then, I realized that a Jess Harper sort of cowboy embodies what I value in all my heroes. Whether they are bull riders or CEOs, architects or archaeologists, opal miners-turned-entrepreneurs or ranchers struggling to make a living on the land they love — all McAllister heroes are at heart ‘cowboy heroes.’ They all have a personal code of honor they are trying to live up to. It isn’t always easy — in fact sometimes it causes more anguish than joy — but it’s not just a part of who they are, it’s the essence of who they are. That’s why I love them.
And I’m happy to report that I had pretty good taste when I was 13 years old!
Anne McAllister has written nearly 70 books for Harlequin, Silhouette and Tule Publishing, many of them cowboys — and all of them, at heart, no matter how they earn their living, are cowboy heroes.
Presently she is hard at work on a four book series for Tule Publishing’s Montana Born imprint called Men of Hard Broke Creek due to come out in 2016. One of them is the brother of her most recent cowboy hero, Cole McCullough, of Last Year’s Bride.
She has an electronic copy of Last Year’s Bride, to send to the winner chosen from among the commenters. All you have to do to enter is tell her what appeals to you about the cowboy hero.
We all have a hero, someone we’d like to meet in person someday. I met mine for the first time on our grainy black and white TV in our Long Island home when I was all of four years old. The first episode of Gunsmoke aired on September 10, 1955. That evening, Marshal Matt Dillon, played by the 6’7” blue-eyed Minnesotan, James Arness, was introduced into our living rooms. He stayed there for twenty years.
Throughout my teen years in the sixties, my admiration for James Arness remained steadfast. I lived for Saturday nights and my weekly dose of Gunsmoke. Tuesday and Thursday evenings were also special, the evenings the half hour reruns, renamed Marshal Dillon, aired.
Even though raised on the east coast, I’d been in love with westerns and the west all of my life. I moved to Colorado in my early twenties, ironically, to a small town on the eastern plains where another Gunsmoke main character, Ken Curtis, had grown up.
Gunsmoke went off the air in 1975 and those shows became only memories. That following year, I heard portions of the movie How the West was Won would be filmed at Bent’s Old Fort, a historic site a mere ten miles from my home. Jim Arness starred in that movie, playing the part of rugged mountain man Zeb Macahan. Oh, man, I was finally going to get to see my lifelong hero!
It was thrilling to stand on the balcony of the fort, look down on the courtyard and observe the big man in action. Still, there was no opportunity to speak to him, shake his ham-sized hand, or smile into those huge blue eyes.
When Gunsmoke came back on the air in this area on TVLand, I invested in a new VCR and a multitude of video tapes. One night I was checking the internet for anything Gunsmoke and came across the Delphi Gunsmoke message board, an internet group that shared about everything Gunsmoke. It was there that I learned that James Arness had written his autobiography and was hosting a booksigning at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles. Now was my chance to meet my hero in person, face to face!
Even though I was fifty years old at the time, I tingled with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning as I walked into the auditorium and saw Jim sitting on the stage, dressed as Marshal Matt Dillon, waiting to greet his fans. We had each been assigned a number, and mine was thirteen. I had to wait for twelve people to have their turn before I got mine! There were a hundred and fifty people in line behind me, so I carefully planned the words I would say in the thirty seconds I would probably get with him.
When it was my turn to speak to Mr. Arness, he and his lovely wife, Janet, made me feel like I was the most important fan in the whole room. We visited about the town where I live and the fact that I know many people who were personal friends with Ken Curtis. He loved to joke, and his blue eyes sparkled with laughter.
Our day didn’t end with the booksigning. Jim, Buck Taylor, who also starred in Gunsmoke as gunsmith Newly O’Brien, Bruce Boxleitner, star in How the West was Won, and Jim Byrnes, who wrote some of the Gunsmoke episodes, held a question and answer panel. It was such fun to listen to the actors answer questions from the audience and share stories of their acting experiences together.
I had the privilege of returning to LA in 2003 to celebrate Jim’s 80th birthday along with other fans. Our Delphi Gunsmoke group presented Jim with a statue of a horse and rider, which one of our members carried all the way from Massachusetts on the Amtrak! I compiled a book of birthday cards and letters from those who were unable to attend, but wanted to send their greetings. I was honored to present that to him. We had planned to present the gift and book during the event, but his PR manager arranged for our group to meet with him privately in a small room away from the crowd.
James Arness passed in 2011, but his name lives on in television history, representing justice, patriotism, self-respect, and worthy of the highest admiration. In all the parts he has played, he has portrayed characters that emulate our basic American principles and values. I am so blessed that one of my prayers was answered, to meet my lifelong hero in person!
I would like to offer a $10.00 Amazon gift card as a giveaway. Hopefully, the winner will use it to enjoy a 19th century historical novel set in the American west. There is plenty of wonderful work by talented authors out there to choose from!
Patti still loves Gunsmoke and likes to write Gunsmoke fan fiction. She plans to complete her contemporary and historical western novels in progress and pursue publication someday. Currently, she hosts Step Into the Light, a blog talk radio interview format show that serves to help people out of darkness into the light of God’s love, grace, and faithfulness. Connect with Patti on her website (www.pattishene.com), her personal Facebook page, http://ow.ly/T2uyj and her Step Into the Light Facebook page at http://ow.ly/T2uSx or on Twitter http://ow.ly/T2v7o.
Just about any Western movie or TV show captured my attention, pulling me into the adventure and possibilities. Shows like Wagon Train led to my fascination with wagon train travel, which inspiredPrairie Song and Keeper of My Heart.
While researching wagon train history, I found some fun tidbits.
Ready for a wagon train trivia quiz?
Horses were the preferred animal for pulling a covered wagon across the prairie. True or false?
False. While some folks did have horses pull their covered wagon, more chose burros or mules for the job. Most pioneers, however, yoked four or more oxen steer to their wagons because of the superior strength and stamina that allowed the oxen to pull the 2500 pounds or more. Besides, horses are more skittish and easily spooked. Which animal would you prefer to trust to ford a stream or descend a mountain with all of your earthly possessions?
TV shows and movies correctly depicted covered wagon overlanders riding on the wagon seat.
False. That was something that seldom happened. Would you want to sit on a narrow, hardwood seat suspended between side rails with no springs? Most trail conveyances were simple farm wagons with no thought given to comfort. The wagon beds rode on steel tires mounted on wooden wheels, on solid wood axles, for fifteen or so miles on a rutted road. That’d be quite the bone rattling ride. I’d rather walk, thank you.
Most healthy travelers walked alongside the team of oxen or took shifts riding a horse.
Need some butter for the biscuits you plan to cook over the supper campfire? Just hang the milk on the wagon.
True. Milk the cow first thing in the morning then, before you set out for the day, secure the crock of milk to a hook on the side of the wagon. All the jostling over rocks and through ruts will churn the butter for you.
The TV screen and paintings of the period got it right when they showed wagons circled for defense against hostile Indians.
False. The wagon companies didn’t typically circle their wagons. When they did, it was usually to corral the livestock. Most wagon train roads led through safe territory, and hostilities were rare. But if a caravan of wagons was attacked, they didn’t have time to find an area big enough to arrange the wagons.
Wagons were covered, which made them into a 19th century recreational vehicle.
False. Ready to curl up for a night of sweet dreams in the covered wagon? We’re talking about an eleven foot long by four foot wide, ten foot tall space crammed full of barrels, casks, trunks, and miscellaneous household items. Things the pioneers would need for the journey as well as items and heirlooms packed for their new home.
Most overlanders slept outdoors, on the ground, with or without a tent overhead, or in a hammock suspended between trees or between a tree and the wagon. Exceptions to that rule included travelers who were sick and sometimes children. Excessive rain might have warranted taking shelter inside of the wagon, but it would’ve been an uncomfortable night.
Reading Prairie Songand Keeper of My Heart, you’ll discover that I busted many of the perpetuated myths in my telling of two 1866 wagon train stories.
Neelie “Shott”, the heroine in Keeper of My Heart, is headed for San Francisco, where she’s been promised a job in a Wild West Show. When Neelie set out on the road going West, she thought she knew where she was going. That was before she encountered The Boone’s Lick Wagon Train Company and the widowed, spine-stiffening wheelwright named Ian Kamden.
Nor had she met his five children. As it turns out, Maisie, the youngest, is fond of picking black-eyed Susans and awarding the bouquets to those she loves.
I can’t wait for you to meet Neelie, Ian, and the others on their quest for a fresh beginning in Keeper of My Heart, one of nine novellas in The Convenient Bride Collection.
Thanks so much to the Petticoats & Pistols fillies for the invitation to come by and many thanks to you for joining me here. I hope you’ll stop by and chat with me. Do you have a favorite wagon train novel, nonfiction, or movie?
I’m excited to give away a copy of The Convenient Bride Collection, which includes Neelie’s story in Keeper of My Heart. I’d love to hear from everyone, but can only mail the book to a USA address.
Mona Hodgson is the author of 40 books, historical novels and novellas for adults and children’s books, including her popular Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek Series, The Quilted Heart novellas, and Prairie Song. Her children’s books include Bedtime in the Southwest, Real Girls of the Bible: A 31-Day Devotional, six Zonderkidz I Can Read books, and more.
Back in February, my e-novella Love on the Mend debuted, featuring Dr. Jacob Sadler as my male lead. He was my first doctor character, though Crockett from Stealing the Preacher came close. Crockett was self-taught, however. Jacob actually completed medical school and worked as an army surgeon during the War Between the States. Just last week, I was honored to see the first print version of the story. In Dutch. Yes, still no plans for a print version in the US, but if you travel to the Netherlands, you can find one. Ha!
Although, the translated title look like it reads “Life of the Receipt.” A scintillating tale of a girl trying to return the doctor’s bag she purchased accidentally only to realize she’s stuck with it unless she can find the receipt. Did the dog eat it? Did her next door rival steal it? Or did the matchmaking store clerk purposely send it home with the handsome doctor from the next county hoping to bring the unlikely pair together in an adventure neither saw coming? Find out in Life of the Receipt.
Well, back to doctors. I’ve always been fascinated by these courageous men and women who dedicate their lives to helping others. Some of my favorite western doctors have been:
Dr. Michaela Quinn – One of my favorite shows from the 80s. A strong female lead proving herself in a rugged land. A love story between the reclusive frontiersman and the educated woman. Plenty of medical drama, frontier drama, and family drama. I watched every episode without fail.
And who could forget Dr. Hiram Baker from Little House on the Prairie? He was one of those rare characters that you could always trust to do the right thing. He never lost his temper. Never got flustered. Just treated everyone with the same calm, soothing, competent manner that instantly put people at ease. I wish we still had doctors like him today, making house calls in his black buggy.
This next one is a bit of a stretch. Robert Fuller started off as one of my favorite TV cowboys – Cooper Smith, the scout from the series Wagon Train. Later he took on the role of Dr. Kelly Brackett on one of the first TV medical dramas I remember from my youth in the 70s – Emergency.
The last western doctor is one I just discovered. How did I never know this show existed? I guess it was never one of the westerns that reran its episodes in the 70s when I was around to catch them on Saturday afternoons. Do any of you remember FrontierDoctor from 1958? It starred Rex Allen as small town doctor Bill Baxter in the Arizona Territory in the early 1900s. It was only in syndication for a year, which explains why it never made it to rerun status in the 70s. Sounds like a show that would have been up my alley, though.
How about you? Who are are some of your favorite TV/movie doctors?
Any Dr. House fans? I can’t believe how much I enjoy that show when the lead character is such a horrible human being, but I do. It’s definitely unique and I love the medical mystery aspect of it.
Oh, and for anyone who’s interested, the English version of Love on the Mend is available for all e-readers for around $1.99. You can purchase the Kindle version here.
If you’re like me, you love to watch historical shows and movies, but really crave anything with a western flair. There have too little of them lately, too few and far between. My latest fan crush is OUTLANDER (Scottish–not western but wonderful) and my biggest gripe is that there were only 7 made for Showtime and the next full season doesn’t start until April 2015! That’s a long time for an avid fan!
Here’s a list of IMDb’s (Internet Movie Database) Highest Rated Western Television Shows. I think you’d be surprised with some of them.
1. Deadwood 2004
2. The Adventures of Brisco County 1993
3. Trigun 1998 Animated
4. Have Gun Will Travel 1957
5. Saber Rider and The Star Sheriffs 1987 Animated
6. Hell on Wheels 2011
7. Zorro 1957
8. The Rifleman 1958
9. Maverick 1959
10. The Wild Wild West 1965
11. Rawhide 1959
12. Longmire 2012
13. Gunsmoke 1955
14. The Big Valley 1965
15. King Fu 1972
I was surprised Bonanza wasn’t in the top 15. It came in at #17, while Little House of the Prairie was #19 and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, was 20th. Looks like westerns rocked the television screens in the 1950’s. Now, occasionally a good western will come our way, but not often enough if you ask me.
Is your favorite on this list? What are your top 5 westerns, movies or television series?
I have a great two-in-one Desire to give away to one blogger today! (Suddenly Expecting and The Texas Renegade Returns)
LOOK FOR MY NEW HARLEQUIN ONLINE READ coming in January to kick off my Moonlight Beach Bachelors series! TITLE TBA
It’s always a pleasure when I get to pay a visit to the fillies and readers at Petticoats and Pistols, since it’s the best western blog out there!
Like most of us of a certain age <ahem!> I spent my Saturday mornings watching the cowboys on TV, and I noticed something about most of them—they had horses that weren’t just…brown. No, the Lone Ranger had his white horse, Silver, Hopalong Cassidy had Topper, another white horse, Roy Rogers had his beautiful palomino, Trigger, the Cisco Kid had his splashy black and white pinto, Diablo. The Lone Ranger’s sidekick Tonto also had a brown and white pinto, Scout.
Going back further in western lore, Zorro had his dramatic black stallion, Tornado. Even Gene Autry’s horse Champion had a lovely flaxen mane and tail.
And what did the outlaws ride? Brown, nondescript horses, almost always.
Horse color is fascinating to me, and it’s important to get it right. Nothing knocks me out of a story faster than to read that a horse is “brown” but has a black mane and tail. No, that’s a bay. Neither can a golden-colored horse with a black mane and tail be considered a palomino—that’s a dun, or as some would call it, a buckskin. (There is some disagreement over whether yellow horses without black manes and tails are duns or buckskins.) Among duns there are zebra duns (with a dark stripe going across the shoulders and down the back, yellow duns, claybank duns, red duns, lilac and more. Gray isn’t merely gray, but can be dappled, flea-bitten (with tiny dark spots), or grullo. And it makes a difference what part of the country or world you’re in, too. A chestnut (light brown, sometimes with a lighter mane and tail) would likely be called a sorrel out west, and there are a myriad of specific variations according to how dark the brown is on the body and mane and tail. A paint or pinto would be a piebald or skewbald in England, depending on whether it’s black and white or brown and white. A paint horse can be an overo or a tobiano, depending on the pattern of the white. Roans can be blue, strawberry, seal and more.
Bewildering, yes, and I can’t begin to cover the subject completely. A discussion of breeds is a subject for another blog, if that hasn’t already been done. I’d like to share a book that helped me make sense of it all—HORSE COLOR, A COMPLETE GUIDE TO HORSE COAT COLORS, by D. Phillip Sponenberg and Bonnie V. Beaver. It’s available on Amazon if you’re interested.
Ever since I’ve started writing historicals, it’s been very clear to me that a particular horse figured in my hero’s story, it had to be some special color. In my May Love Inspired Historical, HILL COUNTRY CATTLEMAN, sixth in the “Brides of Simpson Creek” series, horses are featured very prominently in the book. My hero, Raleigh Masterson, first catches my aristocratic English heroine Violet Brookfield’s eye riding on the back of a beautiful blue roan stallion on Main Street of Simpson Creek. Learning that the lovely woman is an accomplished equestrienne and is in need of a mount during her visit to the Texas Hill Country, he loans her a pinto mare, Lady.
Naturally, during the course of the story, Raleigh and Violet fall in love—but how can a Texas cowboy and former trail boss hope to be worthy of the daughter of an viscount, especially when she’s got a beau back home in jolly old England who’s promised to give her her own hunter and start a stud of racehorses? Raleigh’s got nothing, not even his own ranch. But then an endurance race is proposed to put Simpson Creek on the map for horse racing. Contestants are to change horses halfway through the demanding course over hilly terrain. The prize will be a prime piece of San Saba County ranchland. Voilà—the chance for Raleigh to feel worthy of his English lady. You’ll have to read the book to find out how the race went, as one lucky commenter will do, for I’m giving away a copy of the book, of course. And for those who’d like to read the prologue to this story that didn’t make it into the book because of word count restrictions, please visit my website at www.lauriekingery.com
My thanks to Wikimediacommons.org for the horse pictures, and again to the fillies for letting me come visit.
Readers and interviewers often ask about what got me interested in writing western romances. Well, there’s a reason my logo features a wagon wheel. It all started with a wagon train.
The early seeds were planted with Laura Ingalls and Little House on the Prairie, both the books and the television series. But it wasn’t until the late 80’s when I was a senior in high school that the love affair truly began. I can still recall standing in a bookstore during one of those high school band trip time killers – you know, the ones where the bus pulls up to the local mall and lets the kids loose on the food court and shops with the only perameter being, “Meet back here by 5:30.” Well, where else would I spend time but in a bookstore? Besides, I needed something to read on the bus ride home.
I sat staring at the shelves, picking up book after book but not realy finding anything I liked. Then a friend (a boy, no less!) suggested I try Dana Fuller Ross’s Wagon’s West Series. Apparently his sister liked them. I picked up Independence!, the first in the series, and was instantly hooked. I can’t remember how many I ended up reading, but I think I read at least the first 8, up through Nevada! There were 24 total in the series.
Now that my appetite for romance and adventure on the western trail had been whetted, I sought more. Imagine my delight when I stumbled across Saturday reruns of the old westerns from the 50’s and 60’s. Bonanza. The Big Valley. The Rifleman. I loved them all.
Yet when I saw a promo for Wagon Train, teenage heart palpitations nearly sent me into a swoon. I’d thought Pernell Roberts was to-die-for as Adam Cartwright, but when I caught a glimpse of Robert Fuller as the trail scout, Cooper Smith, I was in love. And the fact that the channel only showed Wagon Train for a short time before discontinuing it, only made my heart grow fonder. We were star-crossed lovers, Cooper and I, held apart by a tragic whim of fate.
About this same time, my best friend got me hooked on old movies. We’d go to the video store and try out everything from Audrey Hepburn to Fred Astaire. I started watching the classic movie channel on TV as well. And that’s where I found it. My favorite western movie of all time. Westward the Women.
Never heard of it? Don’t feel bad. Most haven’t. It doesn’t star John Wayne or Gary Cooper. In fact, nearly the entire cast is female. Odd for a western, right? But that’s part of the reason I loved it. That and the fact that it all takes place on a . . . you guessed it . . . wagon train.
In the story, a land developer arranges for the transport of moral, able-bodied women to travel from Chicago to his settlement in California to become wives to the frontiersmen there. The women have a variety of motivations for joining the train. Some are in financial straits. Some have lost husbands and have no where else to go. Some are simply looking to make a new start. The wagon master has serious doubts about their ability to cope with the arduous demands of the journey and tries to convince the land developer to give up on the scheme. The women prove tougher than he expects, though, and with a little training on firearms and team driving, they set out. As the wagon master’s respect for the women in his care grows so do the women’s respect for themselves. The film destroys sterotypes of women as the weaker sex. And the central love story between the wagon master and the French saloon dancer who is looking to leave her past behind demonstrates that love really does conquor all.
Westward the Women came out in 1951 and was based on a concept idealized by Hollywood legend, Frank Capra, after he read an article in a 1940’s magazine about a group of South American women who crossed the Isthmus to become brides for a group of male settlers. It was filmed the Utah mountains and California desert and all the actresses were given extensive training in handling frontier weapons, bullwhip cracking, blacksmithing, horseback riding, mule driving, and assembling and disassembling covered wagons. My writer’s research heart is drooling in envy.
Alas, Netflix doesn’t carry it, so I might have to find a copy I can purchase. Because even though I haven’t seen it in probably 20 years or more, I still remember it in vivid detail. I still want to be like those women–tough, determined, and ready to take on any challenge this journey of life throws at me.
So what about you? What got you started on western romances? Books, movies, television, growing up on a ranch? I’d love to hear your story!
A friend mentioned that I would probably like a new series called Hell On Wheels. I checked it out (On Demand) and the husband and I watched the first episode and LOVED it.
It all starts with a Union Soldier in a confessional, seeking absolution for things he did during the war. In particular, what happened to a woman. When the confessional is over, both man and priest emerge, but it’s not a priest at all. It’s Cullen Bohannon – the woman’s husband. And he’s out to get every man that brutalized and then murdered his wife.
It takes a cold dude to kill a man in a church and then walk out with his greatcoat flapping.
His search takes him to Hell on Wheels – the travelling camp of the men building the Union Pacific railroad. As you can imagine, it’s rough. A good portion of the workforce is freed slaves, and as we all know the term free was a formality more than anything else. He’s hired as a supervisor to the crews, and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Elam Ferguson (played by Common).
The whole thing is ruled by Thomas Durant, who’s a bit greasy and not above manipulating senators and stocks to see that the railroad gets built. Durant’s chief surveyor, Bell, is killed in an Indian attack but his wife, Lily, survives – and it’s Bohannon who brings her back to camp. And all the while Bohannon is trying to find the last of the men responsible for the death of his wife.
It’s a great story, a fantastic setting, wonderful, complex characters (The Swede as Durant’s “muscle” is deliciously creepy). Of course the cast isn’t hard to look at either. My husband is rather partial to Lily Bell. I, of course, adore Bohannon (played by Anson Mount). In fact, there may be a reclusive rancher in a story soon that bears a striking resemblance.
And I’ll admit it – best of all was the night Bohannon and Elam had to fight each OTHER. I looked at my husband and said, “I hope they fight with their shirts off.” Yes, I’m just that shallow.
A bit of history, a bit of romance, a lot of action. Can anyone say “All aboard!”