The History Behind the Story

by Kathleen Denly

My upcoming release, Harmony on the Horizon, book three in my Chaparral Hearts series, was inspired by the true life story of San Diego’s first teacher to teach in their first schoolhouse.



The wooden structure was originally built in 1865 from the scavenged pieces of abandoned homes and businesses left in an area then known as Davis’s Folly (a location visited in my first novel, Waltz in the Wilderness). Today the long, red building is known as The Mason Street Schoolhouse, and has been reconstructed on its original site as part of the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. This structure is featured on the cover of Harmony on the Horizon.


It was during a field trip to this park that I first heard the tale of the Mary Chase Walker scandal. Mary Chase Walker was originally from Massachusetts and earned her teaching certification from the Framingham Normal School. The Civil War negatively impacted the ability of eastern school districts to pay their teachers. So when Mary learned of the higher wages being offered teachers in San Francisco, she set sail for California.


On arrival in San Francisco, Mary learned that there were more teachers applying for positions than there were positions available in that city. However, San Diego was in immediate need of a teacher and was offering an even higher salary. So, Mary set sail once more and endured a miserable bout of seasickness as she traveled down the California coast. Fortunately, there was a kind, mixed-race stewardess aboard who worked to comfort Mary as best she could and the two formed a close bond.

Mary arrived in San Diego on July 5, 1865. Unfortunately, San Diego is a very brown place in the summer (without today’s modern irrigation solutions) and at that time, it was still a very small town of only a few thousand people spread over thousands of acres. The culture and climate came as something of a shock to Mary who revealed a severe disappointment in her new home when writing her brief memoirs.

Too bad for Mary, things only got worse.

Not long after she began teaching, Mary discovered her stewardess friend was in town. So she invited her friend to dine with her at San Diego’s nicest hotel, the Franklin House. This did not go over well in a town dominated by Southern sympathizers on the heels of the Civil War. Half of the patrons abandoned the establishment on the women’s arrival. Worse, the parents of the town were so incensed that many of them refused to send their children to school so long as Mary continued as teacher.

An emergency meeting of the board was called to determine Mary’s fate as teacher. The records of that meeting were lost in a later fire, so no one currently knows what decision was made at that time. What we do know through other sources is that one member supported keeping the teacher, another supported firing her, and the third was a man named Ephraim Morse. We also know that one month later, Mary was no longer teaching at the schoolhouse, but had taken a position as a tutor for a local family. We also know that shortly thereafter, Ephraim Morse courted and subsequently married Mary.

These are the historical facts, the framework, upon which I built my novel, Harmony on the Horizon. Being a lover of adventure, however, I used my artistic license to throw in the secondary setting of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, two more main characters, and loads of trouble.


This video featuring a quote from the first scene in Harmony on the Horizon gives a hint at some of the trouble I’m referring to:


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Harmony on the Horizon releases January 4, 2022. To celebrate, I’m offering this giveaway bundle to one winner*:

  • 1 Tote Bag – Harmony on the Horizon
  • 1 Aromatherapy Pendant – with dried  Lavender inside + scent ball
  • 1 Traveler’s Junk Journal – Vintage Reporter Style
  • 1 Lavender Sachet
  • 1 ebook copy of either Waltz in the Wilderness or Sing in the Sunlight – readers’ choice
  • 1 Chaparral Hearts Pen
  • 1 SITS Bookmark
  • 1 HOTH Sticker


To enter, leave a comment below letting me know what you think happened during that 1865 board meeting.


*Must have a U.S. Mailing address to win. Void where prohibited.


Thank you so much for spending time with me today.

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