Thursday, April 30, 2020

Author's Notes on Stagecoaches by Zina Abbott

I am playing “beat the clock” in an effort to get my next book published according to schedule. Although I stated earlier that I would share about frontier forts along the Santa Fe Trail, I’ve decided, for this month, to digress by sharing part of my Author’s Notes at the end of my book instead. It should give readers a general idea of some of the elements in my story without giving the plot away. Here goes:

         The earlier stagecoach company to operate in the vicinity of Ellsworth, Kansas was the Kansas Stage Company.

         In 1865, David Butterfield (no relation to John Butterfield who operated the Butterfield Overland Mail Company from St. Louis, Missouri south through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona Territories, and California before the American Civil War), decided to capitalize on the Smoky Hill Trail being the shortest route from shipping points in the east to Denver, Colorado. He formed the Butterfield Overland Despatch (B.O.D.) After putting together his financing, he began building stations, and buying stagecoaches and livestock.

         Several styles of stagecoaches were used throughout the West. Some were referred to as “mud wagons” because they were designed to travel over many types of difficult road conditions such as those found in less-developed regions.
"Mud Wagon" style stagecoach
         David Butterfield bought what are referred to as Concord coaches from the New Hampshire company of Abbott and Downing. These coaches were distinctive in that they used a style of suspension and construction involving leather thorough braces which suspended passengers who were in constant motion while the coach was moving. The swaying was accepted by passengers because of the shock-absorbing action of the leather straps which eased the coach over the rough terrain of nineteenth century roads. Wells, Fargo & Company, which eventually bought out the Butterfield Overland Despatch line, also used Concord coaches. The distinctive red coaches with yellow wheels are still recognized today as a symbol for Wells Fargo.

Concord Coach courtesy of the B&O Museum Collection
          The B.O.D. operated three types of stations. Home stations were run by families. They provided meals for a fee. Stations where stock was kept might have one to three stock tenders that changed out teams. Stops there might be only five to ten minutes, barely long enough for passengers to use the necessary. The third type of station was a cattle station where oxen were kept for freighters who wished to change their yokes of oxen for fresh teams. (Butterfield also operated oxen-pulled freight trains along this route.) All B.O.D. cattle stations were also home stations.

         The first B.O.D. stagecoach run left Atchison, Kansas on September 11, 1865 and arrived in Denver on September 23rd. The section from Atchison to Fort Ellsworth was fairly well established and travel was smooth. The stations from Fort Ellsworth westward were not completely built or filled with necessary livestock at first. Conditions were rougher and fraught with danger the entire time the B.O.D. was in operation.
Most of the B.O.D. Stations mentioned in Mail Order Roslyn
         Tensions between the white Americans and the native Americans escalated in western Kansas during this period of time. The Cheyenne, predominantly, but also the Arapaho and Kiowa, resisted being driven from their prime southern bison hunting grounds (between the Platte River to the north and the Arkansas River to the south). As much as they attacked the forts, the stagecoaches were a bigger target for them because they increasingly brought white Americans to their lands. Some attacks involved perhaps ten to twenty natives. Survivors of other attacks claim there were 100 or more native warriors involved. 

         The Native Americans fought desperately to stop anything and anyone from crossing their hunting lands. They feared the coming of the railroad. Bison were disturbed by the activity of the forts and stagecoaches, but would not cross railroad tracks. This disrupted the normal bison migration pattern of moving to the southern plains during colder weather, but north to the new grass during the summer months.

Indians attacking a stagecoach

         Along the Smoky Hill Trail, the Ellsworth stagecoach station was built close to Fort Ellsworth (later changed to Fort Harker.) Fort Fletcher (later Fort Hays) and Fort Wallace were originally military camps at stagecoach station sites. The primary duties of the frontier forts at that time included protecting the mails (Ben Holliday held the mail contract and used the Overland route along the Platte River), the stagecoaches, and the railroad crews.

         Due to tremendous losses of stock, stagecoaches, stations, and personnel, in March 1866, the Butterfield Overland Despatch company was sold to Ben Holladay, who continued to operate the stage operation, even though a month after he bought the company, he sold the majority of the stock in the company to Well, Fargo & Company. The B.O.D. ceased operation in 1870.

         As far as real history goes, the Ellsworth B.O.D. station was a home station, which meant it would have been operated by a family. I found lists of B.O.D. stations along the Smoky Hill Trail, but no details about the schedule other than the stagecoaches ran thrice weekly. Atchison would have been the division headquarters for the eastern part of the route. I did find reference to a resident division agent at Big Creek Station just west of Fort Fletcher (later Fort Hays) who was in charge of the route from that point to the west. The schedule I devised for my story is fictional, although possible, based on what I found in my research. It is also possible that stagecoach runs by one driver for the eastern division might have gone from Atchison, Kansas to Big Creek Station.

         I found records of a raid by hostiles on Fort Ellsworth on August 7, 1864. The natives captured five mules from the Kansas Stage Company and fifty horses from the fort. There is a record of another attack on the fort on June 17, 1865, but there were no details given in the report regarding losses. Both instances took place before the B.O.D. operated a station by the fort.
Fort Ellsworth in 1867-photo by famous CW photographer, Mathew Brady
         During this period, Fort Ellsworth was manned by the Seventh Iowa Cavalry under the command of 2nd Lt. Allen Ellsworth. Any online reference to this regiment’s history involved either their Civil War service, or action by some of their companies in Indian Wars campaigns in the Nebraska area. I have no idea if the company at Fort Ellsworth had a post surgeon with them. I doubt the regimental surgeon was stationed there. I write my story as if they did not have a medical officer with them. Shortly after, the original site of Fort Ellsworth built on the Smoky Hill River, which had a tendency to flood, was abandoned and rebuilt about a mile northeast.

         For the sake of my fictional story, I moved the June 17, 1865 attack at Fort Ellsworth closer in time a year to 1866 and included the B.O.D. station in the attack. Although this is not historically accurate, there were several attacks by the three hostile tribes, particularly by the Cheyenne “Dog Soldiers,” against B.O.D. stagecoach stations farther west from Ellsworth during the time period of my story.

             Mail Order Roslyn is not on preorder, and there is a reason I am not yet sharing the book description.  It is scheduled to be published Friday, or no later than Saturday, depending on how things go with Amazon. When it is available, I will notify my readers through my newsletter, my Zina Abbott Books blog, plus the Mail-Order Bride Romance Readers group on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Whaling: Not for the Faint of Heart

Before the time of petroleum and other natural fuel sources, whale blubber was the go-to source for such things. It could be collected and then boiled down in vats, which then turned into oil. This oil wasn’t just used for lanterns. It was also used to lubricate machinery, even sewing machines, and was an ingredient in soaps, paint, and varnish. A special type of oil came from spermaceti, aptly named from the sperm whale. Even though scientists are still not sure of its purpose for the sperm whale itself, spermaceti oil revolutionized candle-making, rendering it nearly odorless, which is ironic since it has been recorded that whale ships were so smelly, they could be detected by another ship even when they were beyond the horizon. Baleen from the whale was also found to be useful for such things as women’s combs, skirt hoops, and corsets, umbrella stays, fishing rods, tools, and other knickknacks of almost every kind, ranging from food choppers/mincers to decorative pieces like clocks and jewelry. Whale teeth were used as a way for whalers to pass the time while waiting for a whale to appear. They would scrub the tooth down to a smooth finish and then carve pictures, usually from templates, into the teeth. These pieces are known as scrimshaw. Some of these, like the ones shown in this screenshot I took from the Nantucket Whaling Museum website sponsored by the Nantucket Historical Association, have survived to this day and are on display. In rare cases, collectible pieces may still be sold, but buyers and sellers need to check that their local laws allow for such transactions.

The pursuit of whales for commercial gain in America began in earnest in the late 1700s. Nantucket Island and New Bedford, Massachusetts became the major whaling centers as whaling ships worked the Atlantic in hopes of capturing the prized sperm whales. By the 1850s, however, the Atlantic had been so thoroughly ravaged that these whales almost became extinct. Consequently, the whaling industry turned to the waters in the Pacific to capture their prey. The warmer waters were a good breeding place for other kinds of whales like the Southern right and humpback whales. Islands in the Pacific, including the Marquess and Sandwich Islands, Tahiti, and New Zealand were popular places for whaling ships to pull into port. While there, whalers found entertainment in the form of women and cultural rituals. Oftentimes, however, whalers who were suffering from sicknesses onboard brought those infirmities to the natives.

Whaling was a dangerous profession. Some whalers signed up to work on the whaling ships as a way to avoid imprisonment for crimes they had committed on land, but most were usually men simply seeking adventure on the high seas. They definitely got what they wished for. Most whalers didn’t know how to swim. One wrong move on a slippery deck or while trying to outlast an angry whale could make them plummet to their deaths.

Abraham Storck painting, 1690

Unfortunately, 1870-80 was a disastrous decade for the whaling industry. Arctic waters near Alaska were abundant with bowhead and beluga whales. Two disasters that I referenced in my last Belles of Wyoming book, The Trouble with Lucy, occurred near the Bering Strait by northern Alaska. The first occurred in 1871. A fleet of 33 American whaling ships became surrounded by ice there and had to be completely abandoned. The good news is that all 1,219 men from that fleet survived the ordeal even though the ships were all lost. However, in the next go-around, which happened in 1876 in almost the exact same location, all but one ship was lost, and several crewmen died. Whaling as a commercial industry was in its decline at that time, anyway, due to the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania in 1859.

In The Trouble with Lucy, I decided to build my hero, Joel Turnpike’s, backstory around the commercial whaling industry. When Lucy spurned his initial attempt to court and woo her, he left Belle, Wyoming and became a whaler. Like the real-life author of Moby Dick, Herman Melville, who had many adventures on the high seas, Joel would later write a fictional account of his nautical adventures and become a famous author. But when his twin brother, John, needs him to come back to Belle and help him out of a rough spot, Joel does exactly that—and reunites with Lucy while pretending to be John. Joel now hopes he can show Lucy, whose heart has softened toward him, just how much he loves her with a piece of scrimshaw he has carved a picture into just for her. But will his declaration of love come in time and will it be enough to convince Lucy?

If you haven’t had a chance to read the book that concludes The Belles of Wyoming series, I hope you’ll take this opportunity now. Readers have been waiting to learn more about Lucy Mae Jackson. For a strong-minded heroine like her, she needs just the right man. I personally love how Lucy and Joel’s love story plays out, along with the way they balance each other, and I think you will, too!

Sunday, April 26, 2020


By Caroline Clemmons

I have heard authors of other genres make jokes about mail-order bride books. They may seem fanciful, but throughout history there really were a large number of women who risked everything to achieve a husband and family. The alternative for a woman sounds lonely.

Unlike the single woman of today, there were not many choices. A woman was judged by the success of her husband and children. If she had neither, she simply did not fit into society of the time. The jobs available to a woman who was above servant class were that of a governess or a companion (read fancy term for maid) to a woman who was likely wealthy but infirm in some way.

If she was willing to risk becoming a mail-order bride, she might still be no more than a servant, but it would be in her own home and she would have her own children. Worth the risk? I would think so.

Chris Enss’ book Hearts West discusses actual mail-order brides. Some are happy stories, some are frightening. Each is interesting. There are other books about western women, some of whom were mail-order brides. Another is Buying A Bride, by Macia A. Zug, who details brides through history. Of course, I'm more interested in those of the American West.

A terrible result of the Civil War was that fighting took the lives of so many young men. Numbers given are that between 620,000 and 750,000 men died in the Civil War, by far the greatest toll of any war in American history. When most of the surviving single men moved west, this left no one for Eastern women to marry. If a woman wanted a husband and children, what was she to do? If a man wanted a wife and family, what was he to do?

This is why there are so many mail-order bride and proxy bride romances. Although mail-order and proxy brides existed before and after this era, they flourished in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In fact, proxy marriages are still valid today. Now they are mainly used for those in military service.

In my ancestry and that of my husband, several women became little more than a live-in, unpaid maid. Would you have wanted to spend the rest of your life as “Aunt” whoever to someone else’s family? Or, would you have dared become a mail-order bride?

In the west the ratio was sometimes 1 woman (who might be married) to 14 men. In mining areas, the ratio of men per woman would be far more. If you wanted a wife and children, what would you do? Imagine being a single man who longs for a wife and family and sends for a bride. What if she’s a shrew or slovenly and can’t cook or keep house? What if she’s a con artist who plans to remain only long enough to gain access to your savings? Would you send for a bride sight-unseen?

Matrimonial agencies supposedly verified the character and intentions of the man and woman before the marriage was arranged. Also available were newspaper-like periodicals filled with ads placed by men who wanted a wife (no verification). If you’ve read some of these, you know they varied from so egotistical they’re comical to so brief no information is supplied.

Imagine yourself a woman traveling by train or—more likely—by stagecoach to meet a prospective groom. You could be single or widowed. More than likely you’d be nearly destitute. If the man you’re going to meet doesn’t suit, you have no funds to repay him for your travel fare and return home. Perhaps you have no home to which you can return. What if he’s a drunk or beats women or is a crook?

Would you have dared enter a mail-order marriage?

In my recent release, MAIL-ORDER VICTORIA, Widows, Brides, and Secret Babies Series book 7, the heroine becomes a mail-order bride to protect her daughter. The groom desperately needs a wife to care for his children. Neither has been forthcoming about their children, which accounts for the “secret” baby in the series. I hope readers will read and enjoy this book. I enjoyed writing it. I threw in rustlers and a tornado to create more obstacles. Here’s the summary:

She has to protect her baby . . .
He is desperate for help . . .
Trouble preys on their livelihood . . .

Widow Victoria Bailey is desperate to prevent her in-laws from gaining custody of her eighteen-month-old daughter. If becoming a mail-order bride is her only option, she’ll take the risk. At least on a Texas ranch she’ll have quiet and peace. She doesn’t have time to let the groom know she’s bringing her daughter. Surely no man can object to one perfect little girl.

Widower Greg Hardy is desperate to get help with his home and his children. He needs to be pursuing whoever is rustling his cattle. A mail-order bride seems to be exactly what he needs but should he keep his children a secret? To insure he doesn’t scare off a prospective wife, he omits the fact that he has five children aged from eight months to twelve years old. 

Their marriage starts with misunderstanding. They decide to work together to fight against a common foe. Will the fight take a toll on their fragile happiness?

The Universal Amazon Link is for ebook, print, and KU.

Friday, April 24, 2020

FROM FT. SUMTER TO SODDIES by Marisa Masterson

Sometimes I can't help but look back on terrible events in history and marvel at the events or advancement they trigger.

The Confederate attack on Fort Sumter was just such an event. Without it, would adventurous men have been able or willing to claim 160 acres just by living on it for five years? I'm really not sure.

To explain, I need to start by mentioning that the majority of the United States Army was stationed west of the Mississippi in 1861. Numerous forts existed to protect both settlers and mail delivery. When Fort Sumter is fired on, troops are moved back east. After all, 97% of the population still lived in the eastern part of the U. S. and needed to be kept safe.

So, with states leaving the Union, how to guarantee that Confederate states didn't grab for land in the West? A painting and The Homestead Act were the answers to that.

This act was aimed at freeing loyal citizens, and those seeking citizenship, from poverty. Also, officials hoped to relieve overcrowding in the cities. So many immigrants had arrived. Since many had backgrounds in farming, it made sense to imclude them in the offer.

At the same time as the Homestead Act, a German artist living in New York was hired by the government to romantize western expansion even as soldiers left homesteaders in the west unprotected. His name was Emmanuel Leutze, and he titled his mural Westward the Cournse of Empire Takes Its Way.

Free land for loyalty--what a bargain. Encouraged by Leutze's mural, families went west and settled land. They kept it protected for the Union. Volunteers would man forts in the west, especially those who were settling land because of this Homestead Act. These were volunteers toughened by hardships and interested in dominating or eliminating the native peoples in the western part of the United States. They truly acted out the title of Leutze's painting with empire forcing its will through these pioneer militia volunteers.

All because Fort Sumter was attacked...

“A great cast of characters, including the secondary characters and a fast-paced plot kept this story interesting to the end. This one is a must-read.”—Amazon Review

True love picked a terrible time to grab Ginger Snap’s heart. She saw the man she would love forever. He saw a scruffy boy.

From the moment her cruel stepfather cuts Ginger’s braid and forces her into boy’s clothes, she has lived a lie. That lie allows her to inherit a farm, giving her family a comfortable life.
Even so, she longs to escape and be herself again—especially after she meets him.

Theodore Edwards never expected to battle thieves or to be the one who has to stop a land grab that is cheating widows in southern Nebraska. He thought he’d pass a dull year working in a law office. After he caught sight of that lovely redhead skinny dipping, life has been a roller coaster. If only he could find her again instead of always running into her younger brother.

Is love worth dangers he faces to save her from the corrupt sheriff and the gold thieves who are trailing Ginger?