Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sign on the Dotted Line...And Become the First Woman to...

by Heather Blanton
My character of Daisy in A Lady in Defiance is based on a real person. Mollie Kathleen Gortner was the first woman to file a gold claim in the state of Colorado. As is so common, most of the facts around Mollie have morphed into legend, but I was intrigued when I read her story. She had grit, determination, and, arguably, the favor of God. Remember, there is no such thing as luck.
Mollie came to Cripple Creek, CO in 1891 to visit her son. Gold had just been discovered at the settlement and Perry Gortner had been dispatched to do some surveying. Mollie worried about her son living and working in a boom town and decided to visit. Rumors have always swirled that Mollie spent some time working as a prostitute. That might explain her fear for her son’s safety in a wild-and-wooly mining town. Either way, her visit was fortuitous, to say the least.
She and her son decided to see some sights. They rode into a canyon to have lunch and watch a herd of elk. Mollie dismounted from her horse and took a seat on a rock for a better view. She noticed an interesting rock formation next to her and broke off a piece. Sure enough, there was gold in them thar hills. Snap. Just like that, she was a mine owner...well, not exactly.
Mollie and her son went to file a claim but the clerk balked at handing the paperwork to a woman. Before either man could say another word, an indignant and furious Mollie snatched up the forms and signed her name on the dotted line. Clearly, the clerk had a choice at that moment. Just how much trouble did he want? I can only imagine the look in Mollie's eyes. The clerk didn't have to imagine it. He had the feisty hell cat right in front of him and her glare backed him down. 
He pushed the paperwork through without another word. The Mollie Kathleen mine is in operation to this day.
It never ceases to amaze me what some of those hardy, 19th-century women accomplished. Simply by defying expectations, refusing to be a prisoner to their gender, pushing back when someone shoved, they left their mark on the Wild West. It's true what they say: well-behaved women rarely make history. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Lawman or Outlaw?

 In the aftermath of the Civil War, countless men found themselves jobless, homeless, and without families. Many headed west in search of new lives. Some hunted for gold, some set down new roots, some became cowboys, and some, those skilled with firearms, chose to become gunfighters. 

The line between being a lawman, an outlaw, or somewhere in between such as a bounty hunter or hired gun, was fine. Some men crossed that line back and forth. Tom Horn found acclaim as a hired gun, and it was also why he was hanged. Wyatt Earp walked on both sides of that line as well. So did many others. Grat, Bob, and Emmett Dalton were all lawmen before they formed the Dalton Gang.

The west was raw, unclaimed, with few laws, fewer courts and little to no government. But others were heading west too, setting down roots and they wanted law and order. That was easier said than done. Most towns or territories couldn’t afford to pay lawmen, so salaries were often a percentage of the fines paid by those arrested and/or bounties collected on wanted men. For those who might have been paid a salary, it was often very low and they also were charged with keeping the streets clean of debris, responsible for taking the national census, and distributing governmental proclamations. 

Unlike Matt Dillion on Gunsmoke, few men made a ‘career’ out of being a lawman, however, as writers, writing fiction, we can utilize Matt’s honor and longevity while creating our own lawmen.

My next book, In the Sheriff’s Protection, will go on sale April 1st

He will protect her

But can the sheriff resist his forbidden desire?

Oak Grove sheriff Tom Baniff might be hunting Clara Wilson’s criminal husband, but that doesn’t mean he won’t help protect Clara and her young son from the outlaw’s deadly threats. When he invites Clara to his hometown, Tom is determined to keep her safe. But with her so close, can he resist the allure of the only woman he’s ever wanted?

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Resurgence of the Historical Western Romance: Why Readers Love Those Cowboys

It seems readers love cowboys! They plow through these stories, some at the pace of several books a week and then search for more.

What is the appeal of the cowboy and why are readers so anxious to devour their stories?

Working cowboy.
Many people are quite taken with the dynamic, fascinating, much-admired, and often misunderstood time period. They choose to immerse themselves in it, studying it in the most intimate way—through a romance novel.

I can relate to this in small ways, as I am sure a lot of us can. Nostalgia is as American as apple pie, and I’m no exception. The American west is my greatest inspiration, near and dear to my heart. I was raised in the west, and I feel lucky, invigorated, and inspired every time I look out the window in my home and see beautiful Arizona mountain ranges outside. I’m not quite ready to give up my computer and car (let alone my lovely home) to live the life of a frontier woman, but I’m one of many who is wowed and inspired by this period in American history. And my readers agree.

Working a bronc in the pen.
Americans take a lot of pride in their Western frontier ancestors, and they always have, even when it was a fairly recent past. The Western was the most popular genre of Hollywood film from the early 20th century all the way through the 1960s. Though their massive popularity dropped off in the latter half of the century, these films and the time period they represent remain major influences for popular directors like Quentin Tarantino.

What is it we find so fascinating, so compelling, about this time period? For one thing, it was a time of great hardship. The men and women of the frontier were building lives from scratch, with little social, economic, or political support. These were people of discipline, strength, and ingenuity, who when faced with a challenge, had no choice but to work hard and find a solution. Any one of us would have a hard time if we were dropped into even the most advanced and thriving metropolis of the late 19th century. On the Western frontier, people had it even harder.
Taking a meal break.

They were tough, rugged people who endured lives more difficult than what most of us can imagine, and even so, we associate these people with honor, integrity, and deeply held values. These people, for whom survival itself was such a challenge, still had the emotional strength to be good to one another, to keep their word, and to cultivate virtues, not for any kind of reward or recognition, but simply because that is what was done.

These days, a lot of people feel we’ve collectively lost our way, and that we as a society, and as individuals, are suffering a crisis of morals. Our values and virtues are not nearly so clear or strong as they once were, and so we look to other times for inspiration and guidance.

That is the crux of our admiration for the people of the western frontier. Men and women of discipline, honor, and independence are so very appealing to readers, whether they live on the early western frontier or a modern city or town.

Today, virtues are not the cultural cornerstone they once were. However, we can count on our ancestors. We can count on the past to show us examples of good people, surviving and thriving, and doing so with kindness and grace.

I hope my stories provide readers with characters that exemplify these qualities. Dixie Moon, book four in the Redemption Mountain Historical Western Series, weaves a story of romance, adventure, tough choices, and honor.

Dixie Moon, book four in my Redemption Mountain series.

Gabe Evans is a man of his word with strong convictions and steadfast loyalty. As the sheriff of Splendor, Montana, the ex-Union Colonel and oldest of four boys from an affluent family, Gabe understands the meaning of responsibility. The last thing he wants is another commitment—especially of the female variety.

Until he meets Lena Campanel...
Lena’s past is one she intends to keep buried. Overcoming a childhood of setbacks and obstacles, she and her friend, Nick, have succeeded in creating a life of financial success and devout loyalty to one another. 

When an unexpected death leaves Gabe the sole heir of a considerable estate, partnering with Nick and Lena is a lucrative decision…forcing Gabe and Lena to work together. As their desire grows, Lena refuses to let down her guard, vowing to keep her past hidden—even from a perfect man like Gabe.

But secrets never stay buried…
When revealed, Gabe realizes Lena’s secrets are deeper than he ever imagined. For a man of his character, deception and lies of omission aren’t negotiable. Will he be able to forgive the deceit? Or is the damage too great to ever repair? 

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Riches to Rags: the Men Who Found Gold

1849 Ad for ship to California Gold Rush

Anyone who has ever studied history of the United States will associate the words, ‘Sutter’s Mill,’   in connection with the California Gold Rush of 1849.   They may know John Sutter as owner of that mill, and they may even know that it was James W. Marshall, Sutter’s foreman at the mill, who made the actual discovery of gold. After that, most history books go off into the gold rush itself, and its effect on the expansion of the United States, and the development of California in particular. Sutter and Marshall, now as then, get pushed aside.   And the truth of the matter is the men who went into the history books, who really made money out of the gold rush, were the merchants who supplied the 49ers—men like Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Levi Strauss. Sutter and Marshall just got trampled on…
     John Sutter, a German Swiss immigrant, had made money in trade and received a large land grant from the Mexican government, who had possession of California at the time. Making a deal with the disbanding Russian colony at Fort Ross, Sutter obtained various livestock and implements, and built his own fort called New Helvetia.   With dreams of starting an agrarian community, he employed a decommissioned battalion of Mormons, who had come to California with the army of General Kearny.

Add James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill, 1850,
from a daguerrotype by R.H. Vance

He set them to work building a sawmill on the south fork of the American River under the management of his foreman, James W. Marshall, to whom he purportedly gave a half-interest in the mill.
On 24th January, 1848, Marshall discovered what he believed to be gold. Being a good partner and faithful employee, he showed the metal to Sutter, the men ran tests, and they ascertained that the metal was, indeed, gold. Shortly after, on 2 February, 1848, the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, thereby bringing the Mexican American War to an end, giving the U.S. half of all Mexican territories including, of course, California-- and eventually ruining the two men’s lives.
Although Sutter obtained promises from his Mormon workforce to keep the gold a secret, it wasn’t long before they discovered they could make more money mining the gold than the wages Sutter was paying them. Naturally, rumors spread and, despite the spread being rather slow in those pre-telecommunication days, and the rumors somewhat enhanced with the telling, the California Gold Rush had begun.

Anglo and Chinese miners circa 1852. Daguerrotype by J. B. Starkweather

Forty per cent of enlisted men in California deserted, two-thirds of homes in San Francisco stood empty, and John Sutter’s land was invaded.   And this is where the history books veer off into American expansionism, fortunes won and lost, wagon trains heading across the great plains, and possibly even the building of the Panama Canal—or at least the building of the Panama Railway, which preceded it. But what happened to Sutter and Marshall?
     Sutter’s agrarian community was decimated by the influx of miners, who killed his livestock for food and stole everything in sight. When he appealed to the courts for restoration of his land, the title was declared invalid because it was a Mexican land grant. Three years later, in debt, Sutter retired to his Hock Farm and deeded the remains of his land grant to his son (who would subsequently initiate the building of Sacramento). He did eventually receive a stipend of $250 a month for the taxes he had paid, and moved to the Moravian community in Pennsylvania. He continued to petition the United States government for fifteen years; in fact, two days before his death, Congress adjourned without action on yet another bill that would have given him reparation.

James W. Marshall
As for Marshall, who actually discovered the gold, he, too, had his land claim overrun and his belongings stolen. He, too, sought restitution through the courts to no avail and ended up with just the clothes he stood up in. Joining the hordes looking for gold, crowds would surround him when he would try to find another lode because they believed he had powers of divination. This apparently went on for some seven years until he returned to the small town near his lost mill and earned money by doing odd jobs. Eventually, he was able to own land again and started growing grapes, but such a high tax was levied on the resulting wine that he went bankrupt. In 1871, Marshall started a lecture tour, which eventually took him to Salt Lake City. There, Brigham Young declared he was a liar because it was in the Church records that Mormons had discovered the gold… The California State legislature did, in time, give him a small pension, which they discontinued two years later due to his drinking. Marshall lived until 1885, existing by woodworking and carpentry.

     Of course, as the Present has a way of making cack-handed amends for the Past, the Society of California Pioneers and the Native Sons of the Golden West buried Marshall on a hill overlooking the original site of Sutter’s Mill. They spent a great deal of money for a monument to the man no one supported in life, and now pay a salary to a caretaker for this important site. And Sutter? Over the years, various streets, schools and other geographic places—as well as a rose—have been named after him. And California rebuilt his vandalized fort for the tourists—and maintain it, no doubt, at great cost.

Main source: Brown, Dee: The Westerners, London, 1974
All photos are public domain
Originally published Sept., 2014, at http://andreadowning.com