Guest Linda Shenton Matchett – Law Enforcement in the Old West

Photo credit: Pixababy/ArtTower

I settled on Gunnison, Colorado as the setting for my upcoming release, Ellie’s Escape. I’ve been fascinated with the state since visiting on business many years ago. The rugged mountains, deep canyons, and expansive vistas captivated me, and when I discovered that my boss is from Crested Butte (the next town over), I knew I had my location. He shared lots of photos and information that only a “local” would be privy to.

The premise for Ellie’s story is that she is an eye witness to a bank robbery and can identify the thieves. Frightened for her life, she decides to leave the area and agrees to become a mail-order bride. I knew very little about law enforcement in the Old West, so dug into my research with gusto.

Most folks think a constant stream of gun duels, shootouts, hangings, and chasing stage and train robbers made up the typical career of a lawman in the Old West, but in reality most of their work involved mundane and routine tasks such as collecting taxes, ensuring licenses were current, preventing the illegal sale of liquor, checking that businesses were locked up tight after hours, cleaning the streets, and keeping order in the saloons, gambling sites, or other entertainment venues.

Photo credit: Pixabay/Prawny

Sheriffs and marshals were the two main types of lawmen. U.S. Marshals have been appointed by the U.S. Marshal Service since its inception in 1789. They are not elected, and as federal employees their jurisdiction extends beyond county lines, often working with an assigned territory. Prior to 1896 when they were put on salary, marshals worked on a fee system, collecting set amounts for performing certain tasks. Between 1790 and 1870, marshals were responsible for taking the census every ten years. Up until 1861 when Congress created the Department of Justice, they reported to the Secretary of State.

Town marshals were elected or appointed depending on town laws and worked strictly within town limits. Towns and counties were also served by sheriffs (again depending on their laws). Privileges and responsibilities varied widely by territory and state. Most hired their own deputies and only rounded up a posse when necessary. In states that have not expressly repealed it by statute, forming a posse is still legal. Additionally, in some places the sheriff had the authority to carry out death sentences, most frequently by hanging.

The majority of lawmen were good and honest people, performing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Others were dependable only when wearing their badge, but lived outside the law during their off-hours. Still others were evil, using their powers and authority to break the law.

Photo credit: Pixabay/ddzphoto

A fun tidbit I unearthed is that famous marshal Wyatt Earp spent the winter of 1882-1883 in Gunnison. His cohorts Warren Earl, Doc Holliday, Texas George, and Big Tip were with him, all well-armed with a team of mules and entire camp outfit. Earp is said to have run the faro bank at one of the local saloons. Described as a fine-looking man, Earp had a drooping mustache that curled at the ends.

Gunnison “busted” shortly after that year, losing nearly half its population. The ore deposits had been exaggerated, with most mines producing low amounts and quickly running dry. Those who remained soon turned to cattle, ranching, and timber.

What areas of the Old West, if any, have you visited or lived in? I WILL GIVE AWAY AN EBOOK EDITION OF ELLIE’S ESCAPE TO ONE RANDOMLY SELECTED COMMENTER.

 

Ellie’s Escape

She’s running for her life. He needs a trophy wife. They didn’t count on falling in love.

 

Ellie Wagner is fine being a spinster school teacher. Then she witnesses a bank hold up and can identify the bandits. Fellow robbery victim Milly Crenshaw happens to run the Westward Home & Hearts Matrimonial Agency so she arranges for Ellie to head West as a mail-order bride. But her groom only wants a business arrangement. Can she survive a loveless marriage?

 

Banker Julian Sheffield is more comfortable with numbers than with people, but he’s done well for himself. Then the bank president tells him that in order to advance further he must marry in six weeks’ time. The candid, unsophisticated woman sent by the agency is nothing like he expected, but time is running out. When her past comes calling, does he have what it takes to ensure their future?

 

Purchase HERE 

Linda Shenton Matchett is an author, speaker, and history geek. She writes about ordinary people who did extraordinary things in days gone by. Her books are regularly praised for their accuracy and realism. A volunteer docent and archivist for the Wright Museum of WWII, Linda is also a trustee for her local public library.

She was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland and has lived in historic places all her life. Now located in central New Hampshire, Linda’s favorite activities include exploring historic sites and immersing herself in the imaginary worlds created by other authors.

Fortune Hunting in the Old West

By Linda Shenton Matchett

Thanks to the Homestead Act of 1862, the West was populated by farmers and ranchers who took their chances with 160 acres and a dream. But from 1828 in Georgia through the early 1900s in Alaska, thousands more flocked across the U.S. and its territories seeking their fortune.

Have you seen photographs of those intrepid miners: scruffy-looking, bearded men in dirt-encrusted garments, a man wearing a broad smile and holding a lump of ore, and men on mules or standing in a river gripping what looks like an oversized dinner plate? If you look further, you might stumble on pictures of women in these same poses.

You didn’t misread that last sentence. A small percentage of women worked alongside the men who converged on the the gold, silver, and copper fields. The reasons for the women’s presence are as varied as the women themselves. Some came with husbands, fathers, or brothers, then stayed after said male relative died. Other ladies were already in the area and decided to give mining a go. Still others heard about the possibilities for riches and were adventuresome enough to try mining on their own. A few came out of desperation.

 

However, men were not happy to have the women “horn in” on their domain, so many of the ladies dressed as men to blend in or fool their competitors. Apparently, the practice was so common during the California gold rush that when a newspaper photographer advertised for a “lad” to help him, he specified that “no women in disguise need apply.”

Widespread prejudice from the men made life as a female prospector difficult. Claim jumping and stealing by the men were common practices among themselves, but some reports indicate it may have been worse for the ladies. The women also had a tough time selling the claims they did keep. Then it became official when the United States National Bureau of Mines banned the women from mining in 1915. But still they persevered.

                           Fanny Quigley Home

Because of the lack of sources, it is unknown how many women prospectors were successful, but there are articles and books about some of the more “colorful” characters such as Fannie Quigley who started her career as a dance hall girl, then headed to the Alaskan gold fields to cook for the miners.

She eventually staked her first claim in 1907, going on to own twenty-five more. Her personal life was less successful-she left two husbands during her search for gold. Then there’s Lillian Malcom (also part of the Klondike rush) who was a Broadway actress. Several of her claims were stolen by men, so she moved to Nevada, acting out her Alaskan adventures along the way to fund her journey. The picture below is of a gold nugget in 1920.

Panning for gold the old-fashioned way is a simple, yet backbreaking process of scooping gravel from a river into a pan, swirling and dipping the pan to let the current carry most of the silt away, then repeating the action until there are about three tablespoons of sand from which to pick out the eyelash-sized flakes. And just in case you’re wondering, prospectors typically worked from sunup to sundown.

Would you have taken your chances as a prospector in the Old West?

I WILL GIVE AWAY AN EBOOK EDITION OF GOLD RUSH BRIDE HANNAH TO ONE RANDOMLY SELECTED COMMENTER.

About

Gold Rush Bride Hannah

(Book 1, Gold Rush Brides):

A brand-new widow, she doesn’t need another man in her life. He’s not looking for a wife. But when danger thrusts them together, will they change their minds…and hearts?

Hannah Lauman’s husband has been murdered, but rather than grief, she feels…relief. She decides to remain in Georgia to work their gold claim, but a series of incidents makes it clear someone wants her gone…dead or alive. Is a chance at being a woman of means and independence worth risking her life?

Jess Vogel never breaks a promise, so when he receives a letter from a former platoon mate about being in danger, he drops everything to help his old friend. Unfortunately, he arrives just in time for the funeral. Can he convince the man’s widow he’s there for her protection not for her money?

Purchase Link:  Linda Shenton Matchett, author of

History, Hope and Happily Ever After

Linda Shenton Matchett Website

The Mighty Mercantile: Shopping in the Old West

General-store: Pixabay/David Mark

Hi, Linda Shenton Matchett here and I’m delighted to visit P&P. Thank you for having me. What do you think of when you hear the term “Old West?” Probably cowboys or ranches. Maybe saloons. But one mainstay of life in the towns that sprang up across the country during the 1800s is the general store, also known as a mercantile. Unlike the cities of the time that featured specialized boutiques, these small hamlets were remote, serving a population that had little time for shopping and often limited funds.

The goal of the general store was to provide whatever the locals needed. Patrons could find tobacco, cigars, hardware, jewelry, buggy whips, horse tack, lanterns, pails, foodstuffs, fabric and sewing notions, household items, tools, small farm implements, soap, crockery, dishes, guns and bullets, clothing, candy, coffee, toiletries, school supplies such as slates and chalk, and patent medicines (most of which were untested and alcohol based!).

Country-Store-1163566: Pixabay/RedStickM

Merchandise could be purchased with cash or barter items, such as milk, eggs, or surplus produce. Shopkeepers also extended credit as necessary. In 1853, customers could expect to pay eight to ten cents per pound for rice, eleven cents per pound for pork versus nine cents per pound of salt beef. Fresh beef could be had for five cents per pound, whereas lard would run them up to twelve cents per pound.

Old-1578895_640: Pixabay/Al Leino

Many general store owners began as roving peddlers. After accumulating enough capital and inventory, they would establish a permanent location in a growing settlement. Others specifically sought one of the boomtowns such as a mining camp or railroad town. Sometimes, the mercantile would be the first business in a new settlement.

Checkout-16544: Pixabay/Falkenpost

In addition to providing for the physical needs of the community, the general store was often the social center. A collection of chairs encircled the massive woodstove that was often located in the middle of the store. Some merchants offered inexpensive snacks such as soda crackers to allow folks to “sit a spell.” In his book, Pill, Petticoats, and Plows: The Southern Country Store, Thomas Clark indicated “Fox races, tobacco, cotton, horses, women, politics, religion—no subject is barred from the most serious and light-hearted conversation.”

As the communications center of the town, the general store was typically the location of the post office with the owner acting as postmaster, sometimes even town clerk, Justice of the Peace, and/or undertaker. In later days, the mercantile was the first or only place in the town with a telephone. Less formal communication included a wall filled with lost and found notices, event flyers, election information, auctions, and “wanted posters” for outlaws.

Keeping the shop clean would have been a challenge. With unpaved roads, customers tracked in dirt and other detritus, and the wood stove produced soot that settled on the goods. One report I found indicated it was not unusual to discover rodents foraging inside the store.

The late 1800s saw the advent of the mail order catalog business with Tiffany’s Blue Book considered the first in the U.S. In 1872, Aaron Montgomery Ward sent out his first “catalog,” a single sheet of paper showing merchandise for sale and including ordering instructions. Twenty years later, he was sending out a 540-page illustrated book selling 20,000 items, including prefabricated kit houses. Sears followed in 1888, and the decline of the general store began. The coming of the automobile in 1910 gave farmers and ranchers greater mobility, and as towns grew in size, the population was able to support specialized shops.

There are remnants of general stores scattered around the U.S., and you may be pleasantly surprised to find one near you.

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Linda Shenton Matchett

Linda Shenton Matchett writes about ordinary people who did extraordinary things in days gone by. She is a volunteer docent and archivist for the Wright Museum of WWII. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Linda was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry and has lived in historic places all her life. She is now located in central New Hampshire where her favorite activities include exploring historic sites and immersing herself in the imaginary worlds created by other authors. 

About Vanessa’s Replacement Valentine:

She’s running toward the future. He can’t let go of the past. Will these two hurting souls experience love in the present?

Engaged to be married as part of a plan to regain the wealth her family lost during the War Between the States, Vanessa Randolph finds her fiancé in the arms of another woman weeks before the wedding. Money holds no allure for her, so rather than allow her parents to set her up with another rich bachelor she decides to become a mail-order bride. Life in Green Bay, Wisconsin seems to hold all the pieces of a fresh start until she discovers her prospective groom was a Union spy and targeted her parents during one of his investigations. Is her heart safe with any man?

Eight years have elapsed since the Civil War ended, and Miles Andersen has almost managed to put the memories of those difficult years behind him. He’s finally ready to settle down, but the women in town are only interested in his money. A mail-order bride seems to be the answer until the woman who arrives brings the past crashing into the present.

Can two wounded hearts find healing in the face of doubt, disappointment, and distrust?

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RWZ3SZW/strong?tag=pettpist-20

Would you have loved or hated to own a mercantile back then and why? Linda is giving away an Ebook edition of Replacement Valentine to one lucky commenter!