It’s good to be back home after an twelve-day trip that included the RWA Conference. It was particularly great to meet – in person – the other fillies at the conference.It’s always hard to get back on track, at least for me. Particularly when, on the second day of my return, my hot water heater broke, flooding the house. I’m in the midst of major repairs, including a new ceiling for my office, new carpets and painting.
I truly, truly hate hot water heaters. They obviously don’t like me, either. This is my third flood in two houses, and I’m beginning to think the pioneers had the right idea of heating water over a stove.
But as usual, I digress. I did not intend to whine, especially after having two glorious week driving up the California coast and feasting in San Francisco. It was just such a sudden jerk back into reality.
But back to the topic of this blog. One of the real pleasures of this blog was to drive me back to my western library. I’m finding books I collected throughout the last thirty years. Most came from western museums. Some are histories, some are diaries, some are pamphlets. I am fascinated by all of them, and I lose so many hours of time reveling in them. I’m like a kid in my own toy store.
My latest find is a sixty-page soft-cover book titled “Women of the West,” by Rick Steber. It’s a collection of one page tales of women of the west. One of them is the story of Gladys Berkley who traveled to the Virginia Valley to teach school. “When she saw the lonely place that was to be her home, she cried.”
But the pay was a fortune: $125 a month, and she was determined to stick it out for a year.
Her duties were not limited to teaching twenty ranch children. She was also responsible for janitorial duties as well as helping the first and second graders saddle and bridle their horses. “I was a city girl. I had never saddled or bridled a horse in my life. I learned.”
She also had to start a fire daily and pump a bucket of water to be used by the students. The one room school was also the mail stop. Ranchers sent mail to school with their children, and the letters were placed on the widow ledge in the hall, and during the day, anyone riding past the school going to nearby towns would stop and pick up the mail.
But her first impression of the “lonely place” changed, and she married a local rancher while teaching generations of rancher’s sons and daughters.
Those few paragraphs have the power to fire the writer’s mind. What prompted her to set out on her own? Who did she marry, and how did the courtship go? Did they have children?
And before long a story begins to grow in my head.
People often ask where I get my ideas. They usually come from some tidbit in a newspaper or pamphlet or magazine. A seed of an idea that sometimes takes years to germinate, but lies there somewhere, tickling on occasion before making it known that its time has come.
So where do you get your ideas? Do youlet them ferment for years before bringing them to the page?
When I finish a book, I usually feverishly try to catch up on much neglected chores. One of those (usually futile) exercises is an attempt once again to cull my books.I blogged once before on an effort to find books to sell at a community-wide garage sale. After two days of searching through several thousand books, I ended up with less than ten discards. Those ten have since been replaced fifty fold. So another attempt was in order.
The problem with such an effort is I find books I’ve forgotten I had, or books I haven’t read in many a month, or even years. I go through one bookcase and read two books. Multiply that by twenty bookcases, and you see my problem.
This time, my eyes settled on “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” by Isabella L. Bird, firstt published in 1878.
Isabella was a spinster who traveled around the world. She made an extended tour of the Rocky Mountain area of Colorado when she was on her way back to England from the Sandwich Islands (now the Hawaiian Islands), During her lifetime she also traveled to Canada, India, Tibet, Japan, the Malay Peninsula among many others. She established hospitals in Kashmir, Punjab, China and Korea. She was the first woman ever elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in England.
And she did all this traveling alone. Amazing to me. I’m always filled with awe when I read of her travels. But my favorite of her travels was her months long journey through the Rocky Mountains, most of the time alone. According to the forward of “A Lady’s Life,” she didn’t go to see the curiosities or the sights. She was more interested in discovering what it felt like to live in other places. “She had an amazing capacity quickly to become a resident.” And so she did in the Rocky Mountains.
My copy of the book has numerous passages underlined. I love her descriptions of the shape and color of place. You feel like you’re there with her, riding along as she meets ordinary (are there any?)and extraordinary people.
One of her adventures was ascending Long’s Peak. Remember there were no roads then, and it was a harrowing effort. This is her initial impression of the peak: “It is one of the noblest of mountains, but in one’s imagination it grows to be much more than a mountain. It becomes invested with a personality. In its caverns and abysses one comes to fancy that it generates and chains the strong winds, to let them loose in its fury. The thunder becomes its voice, and the lightnings do it homage. Other summits blush under the morning kiss of the sun , and turn pale the next moment; but it detains the first sunlight and holds it round its head for an hour at least, till it pleases to change from rosy red to deep blue; and the sunset, as if spell-bound, lingers on its crest.
“The soft winds which hardly rustle the pine needles down here are raging rudely up there round its motionless summit. The mark of fire is upon it; and though it has passed into a grim repose, it tells of fire and upheaval as truly, through not as eloquently, as the living volcanos of Hawaii.”
She was guided up the mountain by “Mountain Jim,” a notorious desperado and “as awful-looking a ruffian as one could see.” But she had been told, “Treat Jim as a gentleman, and you’ll find him one.” So he did, and she described meeting the man’s dog, “Ring, said to be the best hunting dog in Colorado, with the body and legs of a collie, but a head approaching that of a mastiff, a noble face with a wistful human expression, and the most truthful eyes I ever saw in an animal.” Later, “‘Jim’ or Mr. Nugent, as I always scrupulously called him, told stories of his early youth, and of a great sorrow which had led him to embark on a lawless and desperate life. His voice trembled, and tears ran down his cheek. Was it semi-conscious acting, I wondered, or was his dark soul really stirred to its depths by the silence, the beauty, and the memories of youth?”
She mentions courtesies extended by men she meets along the way, then adds, “These men might have been excused for speaking in a somewhat free-and easy tone to a lady riding alone, and in an unwonted fashion. Womanly dignity and manly respect for women are the salt of society in this wild West.”
And so she continues with tales of people she meets and places she’d been with such eloquence that you want to read some passages over and over.
About one homesteader, she wrote:”Mrs. H lays aside her work for a few minutes and reads some favorite passage of prose or poetry as I have seldom heard either read before, with a voice of large compass and exquisite tone, quick to interpret every shade of the author’s meaning, and soft speaking eyes, moist with feeling and sympathy. These are our halcyon hours, when we forget the needs of the morrow, and that men still buy, sell, cheat, and strive for good, and that we are in the Rocky Mountains, and that it is near midnight.”
I love her eloquence and empathy for people and the land. I greatly admire her grit, curiosity and unquenchable good nature that made friends of everyone she met, even “ruffians” and desperadoes.
What a great heroine!
I’m holding a small contest. Do you have a favorite real life heroine? Past or present? Tell us why.
I’ll send a copy of “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” to the one of those who reply.
When the heritage society here in town recently offered a tour of the Riverside Cemetery and some of our historic homes, I decided that would be interesting. I didn’t know the half of it. I learned so much about the local area and the people who founded it.
One piece of information that came to light was about a settler named Minnie Mae Adickes. She came to Wichita Falls in 1905 with her husband, Thomas Adickes. They were barely here a year when her husband suddenly died. It left Minnie Mae with five daughters, the youngest only three months old, to raise.
It would’ve been easy for Minnie Mae to accept the help of both her brother and brother-in-law who were the town’s founding fathers and quite well-to-do. But, she turned them down and decided to make her own way. She valued independence over everything. And I’m sure she didn’t want to be a burden on family. The picture here is the Frank Kell family – her brother-in-law, his wife, mother, and seven children. They’re a story of their own.
So spurning family help, in 1906 Minnie Mae entered into the real estate profession and embarked on a career of building houses. Now as a woman, she could not at that time sign a legal document herself. But she built over 300 homes and never lost a dime. Her only contract was a simple handshake that she never regretted. She built homes for the influential and also for the poor that she let pay out in installments. Her buyers always paid her on time. She taught all five of her daughters to record cash payments at their home weekly.
And so, a woman who didn’t seem to have any ability to provide for herself when her husband died ended up building over 300 homes. Her extraordinary efforts helped the city to grow and proper until her death in 1931 at the age of 57.
The image of this late Victorian house is one that she designed and built for her brother-in-law Frank Kell and his family. It’s called the Kell House and is now a museum. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and bears both the Texas State and local landmark designation. The house is 5,500 square feet and it still has a working elevator as well as many original furnishings.
Minnie Mae never married again. She raised her daughters and taught them everything about independence and of the rights of women. During WWI she was chairwoman of the Red Cross canteen division and held parties for officers and men at the local air base. In 1920, Mrs. Adickes was the first woman elected to serve as a member of the school board. I’m sorry I can’t find a photo of her. I hear she was as beautiful as she was intelligent. She’s exactly the kind of woman I want to model the heroines in my books after.
Minnie Mae Adickes was an uncommon woman and way ahead of her time.
Are there any interesting people or history in your area? Do you know of any stories of extraordinary women? Want to share?
Though Anne Bradstreet is known as the first woman to have had a book published in the United States, it’s most likely there were others before her, but none recognized as written by women.
English -born Anne was the daughter of Thomas Dudley, steward to the earl of Lincoln, and she grew up in the cultured surroundings of Tattershall Castle.Though theirs was a strictly religious household, her father, a Nonconformist, educated her himself, as well as having her tutored in history, several languages and literature–highly unusual for a female.More fortunate than other girls, Anne had access to the castle library.Anne married when she was sixteen.Yikes!We can hardly conceive of it, but it was common practice.Simon Bradstreet’s father had been a Puritan minister, and Simon remained in the care of the Dudleys after his father’s death.
Two years later in 1630, the entire family made the arduous journey to New England in hopes of setting up plantation colonies.With a husband and father of status in the new colonies, Anne held a visible position of status.What with climate, lack of food and primitive conditions, life was far more difficult than in jolly old England.A second bout of smallpox left Anne with paralyzed joints, though she raised eight children and ran a household.Simon often traveled to other colonies, leaving her to read, educate her children, and write poetry.
Anne’s brother-in-law, John Woodbridge, secretly copied her work and took it to England where he had “The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts” published.It was a tribute to her childhood and what she’d left behind.Her mature work was never published until after her death.
Cultural bias toward women was common in her time–a woman’s place was in the home.Period.Women were intellectual inferiors.Critics thought Anne stole her ideas from men, and her writing was criticized because of her gender. The public had a harsh reaction to her role as a female writer. When the bookwas released, the idea that she was a virtuous women had to be stressed. Her brother-in-law even wrote: “By a Gentle Women in Those Parts” on the title page to assure readers that Anne didn’t neglect her duties as a Puritan woman in order to write.He saw the need to clarify that she found time for her poetry by sacrificing sleep and using what little leisure time she had.I’m probably not the only wife/mother/author who can identify with that! We can see the anger that Bradstreet felt toward criticism in the following lines:
I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits;
A poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong,
For such despite they cast on female wits.
If what I do prove well, it won’t advance;
They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance.
There were other women writers during the early years in the colonies, those who wrote poems and essays that have been preserved as part of American culture, but Anne is known as the first American female poet.It’s likely that other women’s work was published anonymously or with a male pseudonym.It’s estimated that one third of all the American novels written up to 1820 were by women authors.
It’s interesting to realize that Anne wrote in a time and a culture when a woman seeking knowledge was considered against God’s will.Her writing reveals her faith, her devotion to God, and to her husband and family, but it also shows that she was a freethinker and probably one of the first feminists.Recurring themes in her poems were love for her husband and pleas with God to watch over her children and husband. Anne developed tuberculosis and died at the age of sixty.
In looking for paintings or drawings of Anne, these two recurred.One is actually labeled as a painting of Anne Bradstreet, the other, which is often used with her biography is a Rembrandt, titled, “A Woman With A Pink.”I couldn’t find information to substantiate that this was indeed a portrait of Anne Bradstreet, though both she and the famous painter were alive during this time period.It’s certainly possible.If anyone knows, I’d love to hear.
We may have come a long way, baby, but women’s writing still gets less respect than that of our male counterparts.We are the relationship storytellers who keep love and romance alive, and it’s what makes the world go ‘round.Though our genre holds the biggest piece of the publishing pie, many still turn up their nose at fiction written by women for women.Only a few years ago, women suspense writers wrote under male pseudonyms to be published.At least we’re reviewed on the merit of our work, and not because we’re women!
Hats off to Anne Bradstreet, a forward thinking woman who paved the way for women writers!If Anne were here today, what would you like to ask her?
Want to learn more about Anne Bradstreet? Order a book from amazon!
There were many female ranchers – you might call them sole proprietors – in the west. On their own, they built fences, rode as well or better as any man and drove cattle. And they protected what they had.
They also had to protect themselves, and thus they had a different code of the west than their male counterparts.
According to The Cowgirls” by Joyce Gibson Roach, the cattlemen of the west adhered to an unwritten code in the use of guns. Eugene Manlove Rhodes in “Beyond The Desert” put it in words: “It was not the custom to war without fresh offense, openly given. You must not smile and shoot. You must not shoot and unarmed man , and you must not shoot an unarmed man . . . ”
But pistol-toting cattlewomen also observed a code, and it bore small resemblance to that of the men but recognized their advantage men sometimes had. Briefly put, the women’s rules advised:
1. Strange men will do to shoot.
2. Shoot first, ask questions later.
3. If you shoot a man in the back, he rarely returns fire.
4. Scare a man to death even if you do not intend to kill him.
5. If a man needs killing, do it.”
I really like these rules. Not that I’m blood thirsty, but there was a different reality when women were alone in what was often a wild west.
One of my favorite heroines was in the Scotsman Wore Spurs. The heroine disguised herself as a lad so she could go on a cattle drive. I worried then that it might be unbelievable, but in “The Cowgirls”, a dangerous woman made use of a disguise and passed as a cowboy traveling over the cattle trails to find a false lover. When the woman found her man, she called him aside and revealed her entity to him. She never said what she did to him but she remarked, “I’ll bet he won’t trifle with another girl’s affections.” You can make your own guess.
Another intrepid woman, Cassie Redwine of the Texas Panhandle, practiced the code on outlaws. While she did not shoot men in the back, she did ambush a few. When robbers were terrorizing the upper Red and Canadian rivers, and when five hundred head of Cassie’s stock disappeared, she decided to put an stop to it. For three days her cowboys pursued the thieves until they discovered three men in a secret camp. Cassie ordered some of her men to surround the desperadoes, capture them and change into their clothes. Cassie’s men then took positions on either side of the camp and when the rest of the robbers rode unsuspectingly into camp, Cassie picked off Black Pedro, the leader, and the rest fell soon after or were captured. Next morning, the prisoners were shot or hanged.
One problem with the code was that a man never knew whether a woman might shot first and ask questions later or whether she was bluffing. It didn’t pay to believe the latter. An unknown south Texas woman who ram-rodded her own ranch and broke her own horses was reported to have blown the top off a cowboy’s head with a forty-five slug when he got fresh and pinched her ankle in fun. No one made the mistake of teasing her again.
I’ve often thought that we as authors can never make up anything or anyone as unique and wonderful as those who have actually lived. There is always someone who has done what our most creative characters have done.
There were many women who spent the entire Civil War disguised as a man. There were warrior queens, and a Scots lass who saved a king. There were women outlaws and ranchers and newspaper editors who are part of the fabric that made the west so fascinating to us. Whenever anyone tells me a real-life heroine wouldn’t do something, I can always point to someone who has.
It’s why I love history so much. You simply can’t make up some of this stuff.
So do you have a real-life heroine – now or in the past – that would make a great fictional one?
My apologies to everyone for running late today. I’ve just returned from a writers’ conference in New York and am getting my feet back on the ground. Complicating things is — it seems — the ever present deadline. My new book is due Monday and there is much too do.
When I last blogged, I talked about mines. There are no more famous names in the history of the Northern Mines than those of Lola Montez and Lotta Crabtree, two women who parlayed entertainment into great fortunes during those days. One kept the fortune, the other died in poverty.
Lola — born Eliza Gilbert in Ireland — was a sensation in Europe in the 1840’s, both for her theatrical talents and her personal life. She was the mistress of Ludwig of Bavaria and later presided over soirees attended by such luminaries as Franz Liszt, George Sand, Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas.
She embarked on a tour of America in 1852 and eventually made it to San Francisco. According to “Sunset Gold Mining Country,” her famous beauty and notoriety packed the audiences but her mediocre dancing talents were somewhat disappointing to the jaded San Franciscans. She visited mining camps, injecting an element of glamour ino the often tawdry routine of mining camps, but failed in larger venues. She finally retired in Grass Valley, one of the most important gold mining towns in Califonia where she shared her home with her pets: grizzly bears and monkeys.
Lotta Crabtree lived just down the street. At seven, she would stop to visit Lola, and the bubbling irrepressible little girl caught Lola’s fancy and became her protege. Lola taught little Lotta songs and dances and soon the child was performing for Miss Montez’s guests.
About a year after they met, the Crabtrees moved to La Porte, and the two were separated. Little Lotta, though, was on her way. She went on stage at the age of eight and was a smash success. The miners showered the stage with coins and nuggets.
She toured the mines for years, often in one night stands, and built a huge following. She finally went to San Francsico, then New York and on to internatonal fame. She retired at an early age and lived gracefuly unil 1924. At the time of her death, her estate totaled $4 million.
Her mentor, on the other hand, fell on hard times. Trying to renew her career, she went to Australia, but failed there. She failed again when she moved to New York and tried to build a career lecturing. Her health failed, and her money was gone. She died at the age of 43 in poverty, just about the time that Lotta Crabtree was starting on her great career.
These two women brought glamour and pleasure to the mining camps and towns across the west. They each defied convention and lived life to the fullest on their own terms. Two terrific heroines, one with a successful ending, the other a tragic one.
While doing research for a western series I’m planning, I combed through my wide and varied western library and came across a book titled “No Step Backward.”
Most of these books came from travels west and the small state and federal landmarks/attractions along the way. It’s amazing what you can find there.
This book is about women and family on the Rocky Mountain Frontier, Helena, Montana, 1865-1900.
What particularly caught my interest was a long chapter on the city’s “soiled doves.”
Several others on this blog have delved into this fascinating subject, but what amazed me was how successful these women became in this western outpost.
According to this book, “one group of Helena’s working women – the prostitute – created an economic empire within the city, and the chronicle of the expansion and contraction of their holdings . . . mirrored Helena’s own development between 1865 and 1900. These capitalists . . . represented the largest class of working women until 1900 and assisted in redefining frontier womanhood both for themselves and other women.”
When the secretary of the Helena Board of Trade submitted his first report in 1876, he included mention of wages: Laborers wages, $2.50 to $4.00 per day; miners, $4 to $5 dollars per day; mechanics, $5 to $7 per day; farm laborer, $50 per month; female labor, cooks and general house work, $30 to $40 a month.
Compare that to the monthly earnings of seven prostitutes who maintained bank accounts in the city’s two major banks. They ranged from $179 a month to $337 per month.
Unlike the oft-portrayed poor and mistreated “soiled doves’ in films, the real life prostitute in Helena did very well and often ended up owning substantial real estate. The majority of Helena’s prostitutes were native born and had property. Twelve women, or one-third of the white demimonde population, reported having an average of $2,500 in personal wealth and fifteen of them owned property.
These women of the demimonde accumulated capital and became a real force in the community. Quite a few bought property that became saloons, a ‘hurley gurdy’ or a simple prostitute proprietorship. One even bought a piece of new property by mortgaging all she had, plus all her underwear (three dozen pair underclothes) for $3,000 at two percent per month.
There were also instances of more than a few prostitutes who moved out of that field and up into the tenderloin’s hierarchy.
But by 1886, a growing concern for moral improvement spread in Helena. The Daily Independent reported numerous complaints against Ming’s Opera House, charging the house with the indiscriminate seating of members of the demimonde in the dress circle and ‘parquette.’ In response the manager replied that he had no wish to bar the ‘soiled doves’ but their seating would be confined to a less conspicuous area.
Five indignant ‘doves’ stole habits from the Sisters of Charity and, so disguised, presented themselves and tickets for the five demimonde seats at an evening performance.
I think what amazed me was the long acceptance of these women as an integral part of the community. Some took their money and disappeared, probably to establish a “respectable” live somewhere else. But others were integrated into the community, their children went to private schools and they became an accepted part of the community.
It gave me a glimpse of a side of the west we seldom see in films or books, although one of my westerns, “Notorious”, has an ex-prostitute heroine who owned a saloon. I love strong heroines, particularly those who overcome huge obstacles.
So, in recognition of Helena’s soiled doves, I would love to send a copy to two of those who post on this blog. I’ll announce the winners next week.
Hi! Lorraine couldn’t be here today so I’m filling in. I hope you’re not too disappointed, but she’ll be back on October 10th. Meantime, I hope you find this as interesting as I did.
At a time when strapping on a gun was as commonplace and as necessary as breathing, you can imagine that the odds of getting shot were fairly high. Treatments for gunshot were basic—dig the lead out if you could and if you couldn’t you were likely a goner. Not a good scenario when doctors were hard to come by.
When we’re crafting our western romances, we usually have to do a lot of research about various things and sometimes we run across truly amazing stories. Here’s one I stumbled upon when I was researching gunshot wounds and treatment. I thought you might like to know about one of the most unique women who lived in Texas.
Dr. Sofie Herzog who came from back East to Brazoria, Texas in the late 1800’s was quite colorful. Thelady doctor’s arrival in the small coastal community of Brazoria created quite a stir. She was attractive, energetic and a highly skilled physician. Though not Texas’ first woman doctor, in 1895 she was definitely a pioneer in a male-dominated field of the Victorian era. Not only was Dr. Sofie out of place in her chosen profession, but her appearance shocked a good many. She wore her hair cropped short, rode a horse astride instead of sidesaddle, and shaded her face with a man’s hat. Needless to say, she set tongues wagging. But the doctor had obvious medical skill and little competition, so when someone needed assistance, they weren’t too picky about the gender. Soon folks were calling her simply Doctor Sofie.
She became particularly adept at removing bullets from gunshot victims. One of her techniques was elevating a gunshot patient so that gravity would aid in getting the lead out. Only twice in her career was she unsuccessful in recovering a bullet. When she had accumulated 24 extracted pieces of lead from gunfighters, she had a jeweler fashion a necklace with a gold bead threaded between each slug. She wore it constantly as a good luck charm the rest of her life.
Word of her medical skills and pleasing bedside manner soon spread. Dr. Sofie made calls in her buggy or traveled astride a horse. Often, she rode on handcars or trains to get to someone along the rail line in need of a doctor. In 1906, the railroad formalized its relationship with Dr. Sofie, appointing her chief surgeon of the S.L.B. & M Railroad. But, when headquarters learned that a female doctor had been hired, Dr. Sofie received a polite letter asking her to relinquish her position. She stubbornly refused and remained on the line’s payroll the rest of her life.
In addition to her medical practice, Dr. Sofie operated her own pharmacy, built and operated a hotel, and became wealthy by investing in real estate. She was very enterprising.
In 1913, the 65-year-old doctor married Marion Huntington—a 70-year-old widower—and moved to his plantation seven miles outside Brazoria. Having reached an age when many would have retired, Dr. Sofie continued her practice, commuting each day from the plantation to town in a new Ford—the first automobile in the county.Fourteen years later, Dr. Sofie died of a stroke at a Houston hospital on July 21, 1925. At her request, they buried her with her lucky bullet necklace, evidence of her surgical skills and charming eccentricity.
Here are a few prices for medical procedures and assistance in the 1800’s:
A visit within one mile—$1.00
Each succeeding mile — .50
Simple case of midwifery — $5.00
For bleeding — .50
Bullet Wounds — Between $1.00 to 10.00
For setting fracture — $5.00 to 10.00
Amputating Arm — $10.00
Amputating Leg — $20.00
For advice and prescription in office — $1.00
For difficult cases, fee based in proportion to difficulty.
But as was often the case, the doctor accepted goods in lieu of money. I haven’t heard of one doctor who refused to treat someone because they couldn’t pay.
Have you read about or know an interesting person with an unusual story? Or maybe you’d like to comment on the cheaper cost of medical treatment in relation to today’s prices?
Also. . .If you haven’t registered yet for the Big Fall Bonanza Contest, better get your name in the hat. The contest ends on November 30th.