Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Green River and My Own Family History

My original intent was to write a short history of the city of Green River, the setting for my December romance, A Storekeeper for Christmas. After a poll taken during an earlier promotional event, I gave readers a choice of either Central City, Colorado or Green River, Wyoming. By a two to one margin, readers chose Green River.

The photo I used above for the banner was taken west of Green River Wyoming not too far from where the 1868 Union Pacific Railroad bridge was built across the river.

What I discovered as I began to research the history of this city was this: There are several sources, and they all pretty much feed off of each other. You can bring up Green River, Wyoming on Wikipedia and get almost all the information available online that you will find on most sites. One exception was the digitized copy of the book, History of Wyoming, by I.S. Bartlett published in 1918 which I found on RootsWeb. (When you have trouble finding sources, check out the genealogy sites.)

In spite of that, when I searched for who might have been available to marry my sweethearts in 1872 Green River, the information was sketchy and inconsistent. Even a perusal of the 1870 and 1880 census information for the region gave me nothing on that issue. There just were not many clergymen of any denomination in western Wyoming in the early 1870s.

Instead, I will tell you why Green River has always interested me. I have a story from my own family history involving this river, although it took place in 1855, years before the UPRR was built or the city of Green River was even thought of.

Desdemona Fox

To set the stage, I first heard this story several times from my grandmother. She was a late in life baby, born when her mother was forty-four. Her mother, Desdemona Fox, was an eight-year-old girl when she crossed the Great Plains in a covered wagon with her parents, George Sellman Fox and Mary Elizabeth “Betsy” Jones Fox. My grandmother was born in 1889, and her grandmother, Betsy, died in 1904. Not only did my grandmother hear the story from her own mother, but she very likely heard it from her grandmother who went through the experience.

Betsy was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England. After she married George Fox and the couple had several children, they held a gathering at their home the night two missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (later nicknamed Mormon Church) showed up while George, who loved step-dancing (think jig), was in the middle of dancing for his guests. The couple converted and began saving to come to the United States. Two of their children died from whooping cough before they could depart, but three of them, including my great-grandmother, boarded the ship to begin the journey to Utah Territory.

Mary Elizabeth Fox

Betsy gave birth while on the ship, and the baby boy was named Sanders Curling—Sanders after the name of the captain and Curling after the name of the ship. From the time of the birth, Betsy was not well. The family arrived in St. Louis and stayed there for weeks, hoping she would improve. They finally decided to continue to Mormon Grove (four miles west of Atchison, Kansas) to prepare for a wagon train. Betsy contracted “milk fever” and lost her milk, resulting in the death of the baby. He was buried in Mormon Grove and the family started west.

Betsy was still ill and not in her right mind. At nights, she often tried to climb out of the covered wagon to go back for her baby. Shortly after they crossed the Green River—one of the most difficult river crossings on the entire trip—George, who spent his nights sitting on the wagon bench to make sure his wife did not leave the wagon, fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion. Betsy left the wagon and disappeared.

George Fox

Once it was discovered she was gone, a search party of about fifty men began looking for her. Her footsteps led to the banks of the Green River. The wagon master, Milo Andrus, decided the train needed to continue because everyone was getting low on food. (Another matter of interest to me—I now attend church with an Andrus who is a direct descendant of this same Milo Andrus.)

Milo Andrus 1890

I have several histories published by a few of Betsy’s other descendants. Two of them suggested the local Native Americans might have helped her, but doubt that happened. According to my grandmother, who definitely heard the story many times from her mother and might have heard the story from the “horse’s mouth,” Betsy might have been close by when the rescue party looked for her. However, having come from England, like many English, she had heard some of the horror stories about Indians—told from the white point-of-view—and was terrified of Native Americans. Since she was still delirious, when she heard voices, she feared they were Indians. She hid and did not answer.

The next wagon train to come along a couple of weeks later was a freight train with mostly men and one woman who was traveling west with her son. As they approached the river, they saw what one of the men thought was a wild creature or Indian eating berries. He raised his musket to shoot, but the woman stopped him by saying, “That’s a white woman.” By that time, Betsy, her clothes in tatters, had come to her senses. She was able to tell them who she was and that she had been surviving on roots and berries. She had no idea how she got across the river because the water was deep, and she did not know how to swim.

Fort Bridger 1850

The freighters took her to Fort Bridger where she stayed for several weeks to regain her strength. From there, she joined with another wagon train and continued her journey to the Great Salt Lake Valley.

Meanwhile, when the freight train arrived in Great Salt Lake City, George met them with the hope that they knew something about his wife. He was overjoyed to learn she had been found and would follow shortly. Soon, the family, including the youngest surviving child, my great-grandmother, were reunited.

Snippet from NPS Mormon Trail Map


Some of the histories of the city of Green River reference the Mormon migration. However, the trail they follow did not pass through that city with is farther south along the UPRR tracks and Interstate 80. 

The Mormon Trail map published by the National Park Service shows Lombard Ferry as the crossing point on the Mormon Trail. Actually, in 1850, when mountaineers sold the ferry to the church, it was known as the Mormon Ferry. It did not become known as the Lombard Ferry until 1889, decades after my ancestors used it to cross the Green River. 

It is also possible that my family who immigrated in 1855 could have used the church-owned ferry a few miles north that became known as the Robinson Ferry in 1856 when Isaac Bullock and Lewis Robinson took it over.  Either way, you may see what the Green River looks like in the region of these ferries where my ancestor, Betsy Fox, was lost by CLICKING HERE.

I published two books for Christmas this year. One is more reflective, one is a fun romance with an interfering aunt and a rascally little boy. Please click on the book titles for the book descriptions.


Gift of Restitution: A Story for Christmas





A Shopkeeper for Christmas 




My next book to be published in January is the third book in my Train Wreck in Jubilee Springs series, Kate's Railroad Chef. It is now on preorder. For the book description and link, please CLICK HERE.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Department Store Santa Visits

 It may very well be one of the most iconic scenes of all cinematic history--that of a young Natalie Wood sitting on the lap of a man in a red suit, trimmed with white fur cuffs, and telling him that her mother told her there is no such person as Santa Claus. I'm referring, of course, to the 1947 movie, Miracle on 34th Street, with Maureen O'Hara, one of my favorite actresses of all-time starring as jaded Doris Walker, which I've seen a few times. I've also watched the 1994 remake more times than I care to admit. But one version of this beloved classic that I had never seen before was the one starring McDonald Carey and Teresa Wright. In fact, I didn't even know that it existed until I clicked on the option to watch it on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago, fully expecting to see Maureen O'Hara, with her fiery hair (although the film was in black and white) and words. Rather than being disappointed when Teresa Wright appeared instead, though, I was intrigued. The story was the very same--with almost the exact same dialogue. And, as usual, I was quickly drawn into it.




Because a good story will do that whether it's in literary or cinematic form.




As I watched the scene where young Susan visits Santa Claus and challenges his real identity unfold, a writing dilemma that I had been facing was suddenly solved. I'd begun a new project in which my young and impulsive heroine is being set up for a marriage of convenience by her father as a way of protection. She is an artist who has been invited to show her paintings in New York--but being from Denver, in 1885, her father doesn't feel comfortable sending her alone. He is too busy to go with her--plus, as a widower, he has a new lady friend he's secretly courting--shh! If his daughter could marry her childhood friend, then the problem would be solved.


The first chapter of this story was going well--but I was having a hard time making it seem believable. After I watched Miracle on 34th Street, my entire thought process changed, and I decided to make the opening scene be about my heroine's father cajoling her into playing the part of Mrs. Clause next to her childhood nemesis, who would be playing the part of Santa.  The idea grew in my mind and I wondered, did big department stores like Macy's in New York exist in the West in 1885? Probably not, but it still would be fun to write a scene in which the heroine was less than thrilled to be performing such a duty next to her nemesis.

To my surprise, though, when I looked up the question of department stores, several did exist during that time period. The first department store in America was called Arnold Constable and it was founded in New York, 1824. It started out as a small dry goods store, but by 1857 it was moved from Pine Street to a place called Marble House. Over the next century, this department store would trade locations a few more times before it closed its doors permanently in 1975. However, other department stores sprung up, including Marshal Field's in Chicago, enhancing the overall shopping experience of consumers in the late 19th century by introducing elevators and animated displays in the windows during Christmastime.

Building my own scene with my hero and heroine playing the parts of Santa and Mrs. Claus was so fun! I absolutely loved the idea of having the two of them bantering, as you can read here in this excerpt from A Christmas Groom for Maddie.

A boy of about five looked up at him in awe. “Are you really Santa Claus?”

“Ho, ho, ho. Yes, young man. And what is your name?”

“Terrence.” The boy’s eyebrows crinkled and he asked, “Why aren’t you at the North Pole getting ready for Christmas?”

“My elves are carrying on in my absence while I’m here visiting with you. Wasn’t that nice of ’em?”

Terrence’s head bobbed up and down like a jack in the box that had just sprung out of its confinement. “Yep. You must have lots of helpers.”

“I do. Couldn’t do all of this without them.”

Terrence fixed his eyes on Winston’s fake beard. “Can I feel your beard?”

That wouldn’t be a good idea at all. “I’m sorry, son. The only person who’s allowed to touch Santa’s beard is Mrs. Claus. Ho, ho, ho!”

As soon as he said it, Winston knew he was in trouble. Maddie froze, then slowly turned to face him, her eyes narrowing dangerously. Winston should have apologized. Or at least been scared. Instead, he opened his mouth and blurted, “Isn’t that right, Mrs. Claus?”

He didn’t really expect her to react. After all, they were in front of a hundred kids with their parents either shopping or standing close by. So when she sauntered over to him, the folds of her velvet dress swaying with her hips, his eyes grew round and the air around him seemed to shrivel up and wither away. Leaning over so that they were almost face to face, she slowly placed a hand on his cotton beard and—tugged. The elastic bands on either side of the fake beard stretched as the beard came away from his face.

“Hey, what are you—”

She let go just as his hand darted up to stop her. His fingers clamped around her wrist. For a second, he forgot about the beard. The only thing he wanted to focus on was her warm skin.


Maddie’s lips twitched. Straightening her body, she put one hand on her hip and quirked an eyebrow. “Yep. Only Mrs. Claus is allowed to do that.”

The little minx!


But this is only the beginning of the story. As Maddie's father works to try to convince her to marry Winston, it's up to Winston himself to win her over. His chance comes when someone tries to damage her paintings. Can the two of them discover who it is in time for Christmas? Will they be able to put aside their past hurts and anger to discover a love that has always existed between them? A Christmas Groom for Maddie is a Pinkerton Matchmaker companion tale, and it revisits a beloved character by readers of An Agent for Sarah and An Agent for Amaryllis. In this tale, Maddie is all grown up and must learn to trust Winston and put others' needs before her own. 




I hope that you will treat yourself to A Christmas Groom for Maddie. With a swoony but sweet romance (along with a romance between two side characters) and a light mystery to solve, it's the perfect blend of holiday cheer!



Saturday, December 26, 2020


By Caroline Clemmons

Santa Claus resting on December 26

I hope you’re sitting with your feet up, content as you savor memories of your Christmas celebration. This month, several of us have brought you ways Christmas was celebrated. Because I love this time of year, I thought I’d give you a review of the book THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SANTA CLAUS, as told to Jeff Guinn. Although it isn’t specific to west of the Mississippi River, this book review fits our theme.

 I added this paragraph to those of Jeff Guinn:

Saint Nicholas was born circa 280 in Patara, Lycia, an area that is part of present-day Turkey. He lost both of his parents as a young man and reportedly used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. A devout Christian, he later served as bishop of Myra, a city that is now called Demre.

Bishop and later Saint Nicholas of Myra

I was relieved to learn the Santa Claus/Saint Nicholas tradition was not a marketing ploy concocted by Madison Avenue. While Bishop Nicholas, he really did go about giving gifts. Okay, he didn’t crawl down the chimney. Homes didn’t have actual chimneys as we know them back then. Many just had a hole in the roof. Not too cozy in bad weather.

Saint Nicholas’ first known gifts were to the daughters of a very poor man. They couldn’t marry without a dowry, but their father had none to offer. The father was considering selling the girls into prostitution. Taking pity on the girls, Saint Nicholas either (1) tossed bags of gold through the window (the poor didn’t have glass in their windows) or (2) put the coins in the stockings the girls left drying by the fire each night. Thus, the girls were able to marry (and, hopefully, each got a second pair of stockings).

Saint Nicholas was an actual person who went around giving to the poor and helping all those he could. In other words, he did what we’re all supposed to do. 

  • Remarkable that he did what he could in a time when the poor were looked down upon.
  • Remarkable that doing what was right created so much notoriety and controversy and gave him a permanent place in history.
  • Remarkable that we continue his legacy by giving to those we love and, hopefully, to those in need.

Several sources report his death as December 6, 343. Over the years, stories of his miracles and his work for the poor spread. Saint Nicholas became known as the protector of children and sailors and was associated with gift-giving.

Whether you call him Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, thanks for continuing his legacy.

Thursday, December 24, 2020



Like many others, I enjoy specific Christmas traditions. I bake cookies, decorate the tree, and even send a few cards.

One thing I've never attempted at Christmas is to make a gingerbread house. Not ever. How about you?

As I considered this great gap in my Christmas celebrating abilities--I know I am not nearly artistic enough to make one--it got me to wondering. Did people in the nineteenth century or even earlier really make decorated houses out of gingerbread?

Turns out the answer is yes. But only because of an evil witch.

In 1812, Hansel and Gretel was published as a story in Germany. The evil witch's house inspired German bakers to create small decorated houses. Not from gingerbread, though. They used spiced honey biscuits called lebkuchen.

Whether it's from lebkuchen or gingerbread, I don't think I'll be making a gingerbread house in the future. It's just one thing I'll leave for someone else while I stick with no-bake cookies.

From my house to yours...

If you're looking for a fun Christmas romance, please consider Detective to the Rescue. From Wisconsin to Missouri, this young Pinkerton agent is desperate to find a missing woman and prove that she has what it takes to be a detective. Who knew it would involve a fake husband who becomes suddenly very real!


By nightfall, the dim lights of Henchville beckoned on the horizon. Surprisingly, Rushton wasn’t as far from Thad’s home as she’d imagined. They’d spent one night on the stage, but the horses traveled faster than that vehicle and returned them to Thad and Charity’s starting point in less time.

Riding into town, the three travelers passed a small, brick church. Snow flurries danced in the air and candles glowed in each of the church’s windows. The Christmas Eve service had started.

Organ music drifted to them. Silent night, holy night. Voices now joined the organ, drawing a wistful feeling from Charity. This was her first Christmas Eve as a believer, and how she wished she could spend it in that church.

Thad’s baritone joined the congregation as they rode past. Charity gladly joined him. She’d learned the song years before. The words hadn’t meant anything to her, at least nothing more than an old story or legend. This year, she treasured the sacrifice Christ made to become a man and bring her grace.

Grace and freedom, like Helga experienced today. Charity watched the expressions that woman struggled with as Thad and she sang of heavenly peace and knew at dawn she’d resigned herself to more bondage. Suddenly, she was free. Charity had some idea of her feelings since she had also been kidnapped once. She’d been spared the torments and abuse that Helga suffered. There was no way she could fully understand the look of pain on that woman’s face.