Prior to the 20th century, one man and one woman met under the chaperoning eye of the woman's family specifically for the purpose of getting to know one another and assess suitability for marriage. The two 'daters' usually were from families of the same social status, wealth, and standing in the community. While it may not have been ideal for either of the couple, it was the norm of the age.
Women often left their families to travel sometimes hundreds of miles to wed the person who placed a want ad for a wife. They walked into unknown situations, homes that may have been much less than they were used to and living conditions that required major adjustments, I've always been told there has to be some sort of chemistry between two people to aid in an attraction, but I guess if you never saw the person until the day you stepped off a stage coach or train, you found yourself settling for whatever came your way.
Of course, marriage among virtual strangers had been the norm for years among the American Indian population. A bride payment often swayed the maiden's father to choose whichever brave offered the most for his daughter. I wonder how many horses and blankets I would have been worth.
The coming of the railroad played an important role in courting. In 1882, a businessman by the name of Fred Harvey searched rural areas for unwed young women, especially those of good character, with suitable looks and fair intelligence, to serve as waitresses in cafes along the Santa Fe Trail. I believe these establishments began the term "whistlestops." The women who responded to Mr Harvey were required to remain single for a year, live under chaperoned circumstances and respond to callers in "courting parlors." Nearly 5,000 of these "Harvey girls" were married by the beginning of the new century. You can bet he pocketed a good sum for providing brides for many lonely men.
We've come a long way. Now people meet on the Internet, correspond by email and chat on the phone as a means of getting to know one another. Problems arise when dishonest folks see an opportunity to take advantage by posting fake profiles and photos to entice interest. It would seem we've taken a step back to mail-order by not meeting face-to-face, asking questions, and truly discovering flaws and habits that may inhibit a happy relationship. In fact, if I may step out of the western genre for a second, I wrote a book based on my sister's "luck" with Internet dating, entitled, "Betrayed."
I've touched a little on paying a bride price in Yellow Moon.