Web Blog of Connie Vines, author or multi-genre fiction. Awards: H.O.L.T. Medallion (Honoring Outstanding Literary Talent), Orange Rose, Award of Excellence--Contemporary Romance; Independent eBook Award, Dream Realm Award. National Book Award and Frankfurt Book Award, nominee--YA Historical Fiction. Blog includes guest bloggers and snippets of WIP.
Just a few months before Wyoming changed status from “Territory”
to “State”—the unthinkable happened. A lynch mob composed of six cattle
ranchers (“barons” actually) lynched two homesteaders in the Sweetwater Valley
near Independence Rock in late July of 1889. Lynching is bad enough, but the
lies told by the Cheyenne newspapers—which were virtually bought and paid for
by those cattle barons made things much worse for the aspersions cast upon the
two homesteaders. What was even more criminal in this matter was one of those
homesteaders was a woman, Ellen Watson.
I purchased George Huffsmith’s book The Wyoming Lynching of Cattle Kate when our vacation party visited
the Territorial Prison in Laramie. Huffsmith is lifelong Wyoming native and his
approach to this heinous crime was part true detective writing and part
prosecutorial stating of the facts. This lynching wasn’t about stolen (rustled)
cattle. Huffsmith makes the compelling argument that this was about land and water
rights—and water was the lifeblood of Wyoming, then as it is now. Ellen Watson
was not the “loose woman” the cattlemen claimed she was, and she certainly wasn’t
bartering sex for maverick calves. Watson’s husband did not run a bawdy house. And
the six men who were involved in this crime never faced justice, because all of
the witnesses strangely disappeared or died. (Can’t make this stuff up, because
if I did, no one would believe it.)
I started reading this book while we were camping on our
property and finished it in one afternoon. With the wind whispering over the
sage and scrub grasses—and often times whistling as it rose and created
whirling dust-devils, I found myself transported to another time. Our small
slice of Wyoming isn’t that far from the Sweetwater River valley. I could
easily imagine what it must have been like to homestead this area at the turn
of the previous century. And, I found myself offering up a prayer for the two
our little piece of Wyoming--the Rattlesnake Range in the distance
We have all watched many a western movie featuring Mail-Order Brides. I also recall a musical
(Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) on stage before becoming a 1950's movie also.
So how historically accurate were these movies and (Here Come The Brides) television shows?
What was I able to uncover during my research?
The term "mail-order bride," as it applies to a marriage arranged via correspondence between American men and women in the Great Plains in the nineteenth century, is largely a misnomer. Twentieth-century folklore has it that a homesteader could peruse the Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs and order a wife to be delivered to his dusty doorstep just as easily as he could order a rifle, stove, or stomach cure, but the truth is far more interesting.
Arranged long-distance marriage existed in the Plains in a range of communities, took a number of forms, and grew out of a variety of social, economic, and cultural phenomena, but never involved the literal sale, purchase, or ownership of women, as the term "mail-order bride" suggests. (Thank goodness!)
Among Plains Indians, sight-unseen marriage was frequently arranged with the help of a middleman and could involve the payment of a "bride price," intended to compensate the woman's family for the impending loss of her labor. But intercultural marriage was rare. In 1854, at a peace conference at Fort Laramie, a prominent Cheyenne chief requested of the U.S. Army the gift of 100 white women as brides, but the army refused. Russian immigrants brought with them the tradition of koopla, whereby marriage brokers were paid a fee to pair men with potential spouses from the Old Country.
During the peak years of overland migration, hundreds of thousands of white women traveled west, but the majority were already married, and it was thought that "suitable" single women did not go west alone. While many cowboys eschewed marriage for perpetual bachelorhood, homesteaders believed that married men made better farmers.
From the 1830s until the turn of the twentieth century, settlers pined for "that useful and essential article of household furniture–a wife." So severe was the shortage of single white women of marriageable age in Nebraska, recounts Mari Sandoz in Old Jules (1935), her classic portrait of Plains homesteading, "a man had to marry anything that got off the train."
By 1865 it was estimated that there were as many as 30,000 single women back east, a number augmented by the Civil War widows. The plenitude of bachelors in the Plains–and hence the chance for greater social and economic freedom away from home–beckoned women. Newspapers from Nebraska to Kansas and Wyoming (a state the Ladies Home Journal in 1899 declared a heaven for spinsters and widows) began to serve as forums for matchmaking, running regular "matrimonial columns" of paid advertisements, frequently with accompanying photographs, for example: "A young lady residing in one of the small towns in Central New York is desirous of opening a correspondence with some young man in the West, with a view to a matrimonial engagement. . . . she is about 24 years of age, possesses a good moral character . . . is tolerably well-educated, and thoroughly versed in the mysteries of housekeeping"; or more commonly, "A Bachelor of 40, good appearance and substantial means, wants a wife. She must be under 30, amiable, and musical." Across the Plains there arose a cottage industry of "heart and hand" catalogs, folded double sheets and broadsides devoted entirely to the matrimonial prospects.
Letters were the only means of courtship between potential mates separated by thousands of miles. According to one bride, the Pony Express "took about four weeks to go from east to west," and letters "often came in bundles." Language was a means of persuasion. Illiterate men could dictate their letters to typists who, for a fee, would doctor their sentiments on Remington Standards. Dishonesty was a risk. Men and women could easily misrepresent their physical attributes, their station, or finances. A homesteader who sent his betrothed a train ticket might find that she had turned it in for cash. A 1911 Wahpeton Times article tells of a New York girl for whom, upon arrival in Buford, North Dakota, "the spell was immediately broken" when she saw the face of her intended. ((Not unlike the social media matches of today's cyber world of romance.)
The railroad also played an important role in the western diaspora of single women. In 1882 businessman Fred Harvey sought young rural women "of good character, attractive and intelligent" as waitresses in whistlestop cafés along the Santa Fe rail line. Harvey required that they remain single for a year, live in chaperoned dormitories, and entertain callers in "courting parlors." By the turn of the century, he had married off nearly 5,000 so-called Harvey Girls.
In the 1870s, 80s and 90’S, Matrimonial News, a San Francisco based matchmaking newspaper helped to make love connections between the single men of the West and the statistically disadvantaged, single women back East. For $1.50 a word, people could place classified ads describing themselves and what they wanted in a potential mate. The paper’s goal was to “promote honorable matrimonial engagements and true conjugal felicities for amiable men and women.” If a match resulted in a wedding, both parties were required to pay an additional fee to the newspaper.
Most ads were fairly direct. I haven’t seen a single ad that mentioned enjoying long walks on the beach, but plenty of them were quite open about wanting someone who wasn’t ugly and had a specified amount of money. (At $1.50 a word, it’s a wonder that some ads didn’t read, “Me want woman!”) Interested parties would correspond with each other and often not meet until they were about to head to the altar. It was quite the leap of faith.
I have a feeling "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" was not historically accurate--though a great deal of fun!
What would drive a woman to accept such a proposal? What recourse did she have if she changed her mind?
If you have any 'family stores', please share in the comments section of this blog.
For additional information:
Luchetti, Cathy. "I Do!": Courtship, Love, and Marriage on the American Frontier: A Glimpse at America's Romantic Past through Photographs, Diaries, and Journals, 1715–1915. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1996.
Riley, Glenda. Building and Breaking Families in the American West. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.
When it comes to vocabulary, you could say the cowboy tends to have a rather colorful one. However, I've listed a few words he has retired (or perhaps never used much in the first place).
This is a word that was used in the early days of cattle ranching, but fell out of favor fairly early on. Unlike many cowboy words that originated from Spanish descent, this one came from the Portuguese word, “laco,” meaning “to snare.” With the exception of a few California stockmen who continued to use it, the word “lasso” was replaced with “rope” within a few short years of its introduction around the late 1800s to early 1900s. This fact makes the popularity of “lasso” among city slickers, especially journalists, in this day and age even more baffling. Bottom line, a rope is a rope. Acceptable variations include “lariat,” “lass rope” and “twine,” but never “lasso.”
2. Bucking Bronco:
Another word that originated in the late 1800’s was “bronco,” derived from the Spanish word “potro bronco” meaning “untamed colt.” The “o” was quickly dropped and “bronc” is the word still used today. If you go to a rodeo, you will see two “bronc” riding events, bareback bronc riding and saddle bronc riding. However, if you hear just “bronc riding,” this is normally a reference to “saddle bronc riding,” whereas bareback bronc riding is simply known as “bareback riding.” Likewise, saddle bronc riders are referred to as “bronc riders” and bareback riders are known as such. Just forget “bucking,”drop the “o” from bronco.
This one is a little confusing. Most cowboy newbies pronounce the word “ch-aps” like “chapstick.” This is improper pronunciation of the word. It is actually pronounced “sh-aps.” As in, “Chantilly”. And the short, knee or shin length chaps cowboys wear? Well, those are called “chinks,” pronounced exactly like you think it would be.
4. Cowboy Up:
Cowboys aren’t really much for following the crowd. If they were, they would be far less mysterious and cool. So, you may still hear this phrase tossed around occasionally, but likely more as a catchy story headline than a jolt of encouragement behind the bucking chutes.
I looked this up in Webster’s online dictionary and it is actually a word, spelled giddyap. Meaning: to go ahead or go faster. Now, I have been around cowboys my whole entire life and I have never (not once) heard a cowboy say “giddy-up.” Although I am not sure what the precise origin of the word is, I have heard speculation that it may come from the draft horse driving command “gee up,” which means “go faster.” The only person I recall ever using is a parent sitting a toddler on a rocking horse.
For more cowboy speak, catch Pro-Rodeo interviews on ESPN.
Vacation. The very word conjures up memories of times spent
with family. Family changes over time. When I was younger, family was my hubby
and two kids. Family now includes grandkids and friends.
This year, we decided to vacation with a couple we’ve known
for years and have become very good friends with. Vacations like this can
either cement those friendships or destroy them. So far, I’m very deep into
cement. A blown tire on the camper at 70 miles per hour, a short in the
electrical system in the camper so that we had no power in a primitive camp
site, a bad valve stem in a rear tire on the van…and we’re having the time of
The scenery is amazing. The historical sites have made my
trip so worth it for research purposes. I’ve seen wild animals on this trip I
have never seen in the twenty five plus years I’ve traveled out west. Sitting
out at night in the Badlands in South Dakota and watching the first stars wink
into view, and then more, and more, and more until the whole night sky was
filled with twinkling, glittering diamonds and to see the Milky Way stretching
from horizon to horizon—I could have sat out with my head tilted back all night
Because we have no real set itinerary, we stop when we want
to, see what we want to, and as I said, we’re having the time of our lives.
Tonight, we’re camping on the shores of St. Mary’s lake near Glacier National
Park. Tomorrow, we’ll explore Glacier. And we may take a few days to do that.
No set time table, no place we absolutely have to be…
I'm a little late posting this blog because this time of year, I am miserable with allergies. My eyes swell shut (no contact lenses for me this time of year), my sinuses are swollen, and my throat is always raw. I took some allergy meds last night, intending to get this post up before midnight...Yeah, not so much when I didn't wake up until almost 3 in the afternoon.
So, I went back to an old blog post I put up a couple of years ago on writing and here it is:
I found several good quotes from well-known authors that I have decided to share them here and how I’ve tried to (and often failed) follow the advice offered by these authors.
The first draft of everything is shit. -Ernest Hemingway
Yes, it certainly is. Sometimes the second and third drafts are just as bad. However, if as a writer, you’re totally hung up on making every word perfect, making every sentence a literary masterpiece, you’re going to do several things at once. You’re going to make yourself insane. You’re going to frustrate the daylights out of yourself. You’re going to become completely discouraged. And, ultimately, I can almost guarantee that you’re going to stop writing. Because if you’re so hung up making that first sentence/paragraph/page perfect, you’re never going to get past the first sentence/paragraph/page. The internal editor won’t let you. Suggestion: SHUT THE DAMN INTERNAL EDITOR OFF!
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King
YES! One of the most difficult assignments I had as a graduate student in one of the creative writing classes I took was to write a short story mimicking another writer’s style and voice. Ask me to analyze that style and voice and I could take a story apart, dissect it, and put it back together. Ask me to change my writing style—damn you, Aaron Morales—and it was as if I’d been asked to give up a kidney. However, by mimicking another author’s voice and style, that lesson became a tool in my arsenal of writing weapons. I had to read a lot of short stories to find one author that I felt I could come close to writing like in a similar voice. I can honestly say I cursed Aaron Morales for this assignment, but when it was over, I had acquired another tool to use. And different writing styles are different tools. As I tell my freshmen composition classes, there are different styles and even voices to be used for different writings.
Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain
And, substitute “damn” also for any word that ends in “ly”. “Very” and those adverbs that I am in love with do NOTHING to strengthen my writing. If anything, they make it weaker. This is a battle I fight all the time, but I hope that I am at last beginning to win this war.
Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. – Neil Gaiman
This one is almost self-explanatory. What works for one person, may not work for the next. I had this bit of sage advice given to me once regarding something like this. “If one person says that something in the scene isn’t working, consider the source. If two people tell you the same thing in a scene isn’t working, might want to think about changing it. If three or more people tell you that thing isn’t working, you have to fix it.” As the author, you’re the only one who knows what will work with your characters. You know them inside and out (or you’d better). You’re the only one who can resolve the problem.
And, last but not least: Write drunk, edit sober. – Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway knew the only way to turn off the internal editor for him was to drown the damn thing in alcohol. For me, shutting off the internal editor means putting in the ear buds, cranking up the volume, putting fingers to the keyboard, and just start writing. When I’m working on a rough draft, I don’t even like to go back and read everything I wrote the day before…or the hour before. I’ll read just a page or two, just enough to get back into the flow of things. Even though Capote said this of Kerouac’s On The Road: “That’s not writing, it’s typing” there is something to be said for just “typing.”
Stay drunk on the idea of writing. Approach the editing process cold, stone sober.