Friday, March 6, 2015

The Sport of old west Montana

By: Peggy L Henderson

When I’m not writing about mountain men in the Tetons and time travels to Yellowstone National Park, I write about time traveling cowboys. My books are almost always set primarily in Montana, (unless the story takes my characters along the Oregon Trail), and my “cowboys” aren’t really cowboys, but horsemen. I know a little about raising cattle from my years in pre-vet school, but my love and interest lies with equines, not bovines. So, I usually apply the old “write what you know” adage to my books, and my heroes and heroines end up being superb horsemen and horsewomen.
In my teenage years, I fell in love with thoroughbred horse racing, also called The Sport of Kings, from its European origins. I spent my early teen years memorizing the names of every Kentucky Derby winner, researching pedigrees of famous horses past and present, and even writing stories about race horses (which will never see the light of day).

For my latest book, the first in a series of historical western romances (no time travel in these), I once again went with my love of horses to weave a story. My intent was to rewrite an unfinished old manuscript that I had written as a contemporary romance set in Kentucky, and turn it into a historical western romance set in Montana.
My first dilemma was that a main part of the story was about the business of breeding thoroughbred racehorses. I had a vague idea that, yes, people undoubtedly raced horses in Montana in the old west, but did they breed blue-blooded thoroughbreds during a time when prospectors were digging for gold, and Montana wasn’t yet a state? 
I did what every good writer will do – research. And to my surprise and delight, I found out that Montana has a rich history in horse racing. 
The Native Americans who lived in the area that is now Montana first acquired horses in the 1700’s, and racing them was a common sport. The first thoroughbred thought to have been brought to Montana was a Kentucky-bred stallion named Billy Bay. He was supposedly brought to the territory by Blackfeet Indians. A trader by the name of Malcolm Clarke owned the horse for a time, racing him in inter-tribal races. Clarke had been married to a Peigan Blackfoot woman, and most likely acquired the horse through his in-laws. 
When gold was discovered in Montana in the 1860’s, horse racing quickly became a popular sport among the miners. Races in the streets of the mining camps were common. If someone owned a fast horse, he’d travel around to different mining camps, looking to race his animal and make bets. 
The area around Deer Lodge, Montana, became a popular area for breeding horses intent for racing. Several large stables and ranches sprung up, owned by rich investors and bankers. 
When racetracks were built in the larger cities of Helena and Anaconda, it put Montana on the racing map. The construction of the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds and the territorial fairs in Helena brought sizeable purses and the first organized races. 
The Kentucky Derby is the premiere horse race in America, run on the first Saturday in May each year at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. It is a race for three-year-old thoroughbreds. When it was first run in 1875, the Derby was 1 ½ miles long (it has been shortened to 1 ¼ miles). In 1889, a Montana-bred colt by the name of Spokane won the Kentucky Derby, by a “flaming nostril,” setting a new race record for the 1 ½ miles. 1889 is also the year that Montana became a state. It was said that the chestnut colt received more attention for his victory in the Derby than news that Montana had been granted statehood.

Blurb from IN HIS EYES (Blemished Brides Book 1), coming Jan 27, 2015
Carefree and strong-willed, Katherine Montgomery is the daughter of a successful Montana horse rancher. When a tragic accident claims her father’s life, Katherine is left to deal with an overbearing mother whose agenda does not include a young daughter. Fate deals her another devastating blow, leaving her to face an uncertain future far away from everything and everyone she’s loved. 

Trace Hawley used to push the limits of the law, and no one was going to plan his future for him. The death of the man who always had his back leaves him to finally face responsibility. The promises he made a decade ago have shaped him into the man he is today, and will bring him face to face with the one girl from his past he always tried to avoid. 

After a ten year absence, Katherine returns to the ranch she once loved to discover the shocking reason her mother summoned her home. Surprised to find Trace still at the ranch, her childhood infatuation grows into something far stronger as he challenges her to lead the life she once wanted, but seems to have forgotten. When Katherine is forced to make a choice between saving her father’s dreams or following her own, Trace might be the only one who holds the key to both.


Deer Lodge, Montana Territory 1886

Trace Hawley pulled his hat from his head. He paced the boardwalk in front of the telegraph and post office. Running a hand through his hair, he peered through the window at the clock that hung on the wall behind the counter. He frowned. The stage was late.
Harley Wilson, the post master, glanced up from behind his thick spectacles. He stood, and walked around the counter, then opened the door and stepped outside.
The balding man shot Trace an indulgent smile, and pulled a watch from his waistcoat pocket. He flipped it open, and nodded. “I’d say another twenty minutes. Stage is never on time.” 
Trace scoffed. He should have figured coming into town would eat up his entire day. Why the hell had he allowed his sister, Sally, to talk him into the trip in the first place? Their boss, Chantal Sinclair, had a personal servant who could have driven into town, but the man had apparently become ill today, according to Sally.
More like hung over. 
Trace shook his head. That woman could drive any man to drink. Annoyance shot through him, and he gnashed his teeth. He should be grateful that the overbearing female hadn’t insisted that she come along.
Why the hell were his nerves on edge about being here to meet the stage? Neither Chantal Sinclair’s demands, nor Sally’s pestering, had ever bothered him before. 
You wanted to be the one to meet the stage.
 Yeah, he’d wanted to come, out of curiosity. He could have easily told Mrs. Sinclair to send someone else, that he was too busy. As foreman of the Red Cliff Ranch, he could have delegated the job to one of the hired hands. 
Harley cocked his head at Trace. “Must be something mighty important coming in on that stage to make you wear a path clean through these here floor boards. You waitin’ on a letter from them high-falutin’ horse breeders from back east?”
 “I ain’t expecting anything from Kentucky,” Trace said when Harley looked at him with raised brows.
“You still got plans to go to that fancy horse race they put on out there?” Harley asked, and twirled the curly end of his mustache between his thumb and index finger.
“If all goes the way I hope, I plan to be there in three years,” Trace said, and a smile passed over his lips. He didn’t conceal the confidence in his voice. He would be in Kentucky with a colt he’d bred, and show those blue bloods that a horse didn’t have to be foaled in the east to run with the best of them.
“Well, I wish you luck, son.” Harley slapped him on the back. “Wouldn’t that be something, to have a homegrown colt beat them fancy thoroughbreds they’ve got.”
Trace’s lips widened. “Yeah, Harley, it sure would be something.” 
His smile faded, and he glanced at the dust on his worn boots. John Montgomery would have been proud, and so would his own father. Breeding a Derby winner was one promise he’d made to John that he planned to keep, even if he’d only been a wet-nosed kid at the time, and made that vow out of arrogance. 
Maybe if he made good on that promise, the fine citizens of Deer Lodge would look at him differently, rather than whisper behind his back. As if he didn’t notice. But, as far as that other promise was concerned . . . 

Peggy L Henderson is a laboratory technologist by night, and best-selling western historical and time travel romance author of the Yellowstone Romance Series, Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series, and Teton Romance Trilogy. When she’s not writing about Yellowstone, the Tetons, or the old west, she’s out hiking the trails, spending time with her family and pets, or catching up on much-needed sleep. She is happily married to her high school sweetheart. Along with her husband and two sons, she makes her home in Southern California. 


Shanna Hatfield said...

Great post, Peggy! So fun to read about the rich and varied past of horse racing!

Caroline Clemmons said...

I've attended horse races in California at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita when visiting my eldest half-brother. He loved the races.