Friday, September 14, 2018

Wild Women Stage Drivers of the West

By Jacqui Nelson

Wild West stagecoach drivers, freighters, expressmen...and women! My story-in-progress revolves around a wagon driving heroine who hauls freight for Peregrines' Post & Freight in Denver and Noelle, Colorado.

But what about the real-life women who mastered the job first? They led the way and blazed the trails. Who were they and what drove them to take up (and put down) the reins?

Mary Fields, aka Stagecoach Mary 

( born 1832 in Tennessee )

Born a slave and freed in 1865, Mary worked in a judge's home and then a mission convent hauling freight, doing laundry, growing vegetables, tending chickens, and repairing buildings. She also ran several restaurants in Montana, Wyoming, and southern Canada. Standing six-feet tall, she smoked cigars, packed a gun, and became known as a hard-drinking brawler.

In 1895, Mary became a U.S. mail coach driver after she was the fastest applicant to hitch a team of six. She ran her route with horses and a mule named Moses and never missed a day’s work. If the snow was too deep, she donned snowshoes and carried the mail sacks on her shoulders. Her reliability earned her the nickname Stagecoach.

When she retired in Montana, she gardened, ran a laundry service in her home, and babysat the local children. She was friends with actor Gary Cooper who grew up as her neighbor. When Montana passed a law forbidding women to enter saloons, the mayor of Cascade granted her an exemption.

Delia Haskett Rawson 

( born 1861 in Ukiah, California )

Delia’s mother was a school teacher while her father owned a hotel and blacksmith shop and served as an agent for the Wells Fargo stage line. From a very young age, Delia was always asking her father to let her hold the reins. She became a skilled trick rider, roper, and shooter but she didn't stop there.

When Delia was 14, one of her father’s drivers became ill. She took the reins and completed her first U.S. Mail stagecoach runleaving in the afternoon and reaching her destination at 3 a.m. For 10 years, she was a regular backup driver on the 45-mile Lakeport to Ukiah run.

In the 1880s, she married and moved to southern California with her husband and had three children. In 1934, when the Pioneer Stage Drivers of California Association was organized, she was elected Vice President.

Charlotte (Charley) Parkhurst, aka One-Eyed Charley 

 ( born 1812 in Vermont or New Hampshire - sources vary on the location )

Charley was raised in an orphanage but ran away and, disguised in boy’s clothing, worked in a livery stable in Massachusetts. She kept her disguise for the rest of her life. In both summer and winter, she wore gloves and pleated shirts to hide her small hands and her figure.

In 1849, Charley followed friends to California to become a California Stage Company driver.  Shortly after arriving, while attempting to shoe a horse, she lost the use of one eye when the horse kicked her. For twenty years, she drove the stage for many companies including Wells-Fargowhich earned her the nickname Six-Horse Charley. She chewed tobacco, cussed, gambled and wore an eye patch that added to her tough appearance.

In 1868 while still disguised as a man, she was a registered voter, making her the first woman to vote in California. After retiring from driving, she worked at lumbering, cattle ranching and raising chickens. Only when she died did anyone discover her true gender.

Robyn Llewellyn  

( born... in my mind )

Who is Robyn Llewellyn? Raised by three brothers, she's a trouser-wearing tomboy whose one talent is driving wagons and hauling freight. But she wants to learn so much more. So she heads to Noelle, Colorado for a makeover. Why? Because Noelle is a town notorious for transforming women's lives.

An excerpt from Robyn, a Christmas Bride (release date: December 19, 2018)…

Dresses were menaces. The dratted skirt caught on the saddle and nearly upended Robyn as she dismounted from Caradoc. She landed with a curse and a flurry of fabric. The usually unrufflable Clydesdale snorted, sharing her surprise. Her Noelle journey suddenly loomed a thousand times larger than her usual jaunts around Denver hauling Peregrine freight.

She’d never regret taking the old road to Noelle rather than the train. She’d always wanted to experience the iconic trail that Max had hauled freight up and down so many times in the past. But perhaps she should’ve waited to don her new attire until after arriving in Noelle. Her eagerness to begin her transformation as soon as possible might not have been wise.

She’d misjudged a dress’ unique challenges. Wearing a skirt was hard work. Why did women consent to do it?

In trousers, she could’ve sprung off Caradoc’s back in one smooth leap. No frustration. No fuss. No flash of petticoats, like a flag announcing her arrival. Her unladylike dismount brought stares, whistles, and even catcalls from the men on the street between the train depot and Peregrines’ Post and Freight Noelle.

Her expletive about foul-smelling goats shocked them into silence. Not very ladylike either, but effective. Would apologizing for her lack of grace been the correct response?

She’d have to ask Noelle’s married ladies. Giving the men a final glare, she spun on her heel to tie Caradoc’s reins to Peregrines’ hitching rail.

Before she could, the office door opened and Birdie Bell Peregrine stepped out and enveloped her in a hug. “VoilĂ , you’re here! How delighted we are to finally see you in Noelle.”

Trying not to squirm like a gangly gosling under a mother’s wing, Robyn patted Birdie’s shoulder. Coming from a family of brothers who seldom hugged, she often wondered how Birdie—who’d grown up with brothers whose dishonorable deeds had forced her to assume a false name and live a life of hiding until she came to Noelle—had become so open with her emotions.

Then a man who resembled Max—except with wilder hair, a blonder beard, and lighter eyes—appeared and she understood. Birdie released Robyn and stepped into the circle of her husband’s arm. She flew to him like a bird to a nest. Love had changed Birdie.

It had changed Robyn as well, but only her heart. Noelle and its women were her best hope for changing all of her. Then she might win love as well.

~ * ~

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glenda said...

Oh Jacqui I can hardly wait to read this new Noelle book it sounds great!! Loved reading this blog!!!

Jacqui Nelson said...

Glad to hear you are eager to read my Noelle book, Glenda! Trying to write faster :)

Unknown said...

Hubby was born in Ukiah Ca in 1951 so it will be interesting to read about Delia Haskett Rawson
( born 1861 in Ukiah, California ). Can't wait!

ptclayton said...

I love todays story about Mary I would of told her You Go Girl as she was a wonder and also she was so tough. I could of used her as back up as she was so tough when my foster family was so abusive !Peggy Clayton

Kristy McCaffrey said...

So interesting about these ladies. Thanks for sharing, Jacqui! And your new book sounds fun.

Jacqui Nelson said...

Thanks for your comments, Shirl, Peggy & Kristy! And how cool, Shirl, that your hubby was born in Ukiah just like Delia Rawson! It’s a small world...sometimes :)

GiniRifkin said...

Loved these snippets of women of the west, very inspiring. Your books sound great "your on the list"! Great winter reads for me.

Jacqui Nelson said...

Gini, sorry for the late reply. Awesome to hear you enjoy my women of the west blog posts. And thank you for putting my books on your list!