Christmas in the West in the 1800’s. For some reason, I get warm-and-fuzzy feelings thinking about the wide open spaces, deep snow, tall pines, warm hearths, homemade gifts, sleigh rides, fiddle music, shy cowboys asking for a dance at the Christmas ball–Whoops! Sorry, I drifted off there for a second!
You can see why I write this stuff!
I’d like to share with you three of my favorite things that put me in mind of a Western Christmas: a certain book, a certain song, and a certain poem. Maybe they’ll set you to dreaming about a Cowboy–er, I mean, an old-fashioned Christmas, too!
THE BOOK-–More than a decade ago, I read A Bride Goes West, the memoirs of Wyoming wife and rancher Nannie Alderson. The book haunts me to this day. You’d have to read it to understand, but Nannie was a fire-cracker with a rebel’s heart! Nothing ever kept her down; she accepted life with grace and grit and lived a grand adventure when the west was still wild and wooly.
Born to an affluent southern family, Nannie grew up in post-Civil War Virginia. Her home and community were spared much of the desolation of war, leaving her to blossom in a world that clung to the most genteel Southern graces. Her petticoats were ironed daily, she never cooked a meal or did her own laundry, but she did learn the most useless graces of high society. Her mother was a vain woman who enjoyed being the belle of the ball and was pleased to groom her daughter for the same fate.
Nannie only felt strangled by the shallow, societal confinements.
In 1880, she had the opportunity to visit a cousin in wild-and-wooly Kansas. Nannie jumped at it. Right from the start, she fell in love with the freedom of the West. No one judged her there; no one treated her like a hot-house flower. What you wore or who you ate dinner with didn’t impress anyone. Folks were measured by their sand, not their silk breeches. Hard work and honest words were all that mattered.
While there, she met the man who epitomized these traits. Walt Alderson had left home at the age of 12 to make his way as a cowboy. He spent years learning to be the best cowboy he could be with the ultimate goal of running his own spread. In all that time, he never made one visit home.
Then suddenly, his future rolled out before him. He and his business partner purchased some land in Montana and started the work of building a ranch. For whatever reason, Walt decided in the midst of all this to check in on his family. The night he came home, Nannie was sitting on his living room settee.
Nannie’s recollections of building a ranch in the wilds of Montana with Walt are fascinating, detailed, peppered with humor, and always honest. She went from gliding across hardwood floors to sweeping dirt floors covered with canvas. She went from living in an antebellum mansion to a drafty, two-room cabin. She went from swirling about at parties with young men in perfectly tailored suits to dancing with dusty cowboys in patched up dungarees.
She had to learn to cook and her tutors were those trail-hardened ranch hands who treated her like a princess and readily forgave her for the rocks she called biscuits. She survived bed bugs and blizzards; delivered children with no midwife and stared down Indians. Nannie even shot a rattlesnake who attempted to take up residence in her kitchen. She readily admits she had moments when she felt sorry for herself, but, mostly, Nannie counted her blessings. She loved her life. She loved the way of life out West.
Like Walt, quitting was never part of the plan, even when the stock market crashed and Indians burned their house. For ten years they worked and slaved to forge a home from the beautiful, desolate, wide-open country in Montana. Even when Walt died, leaving her a widow with two young children, Nannie cowboyed up. She made ends meet; she raised good kids.
The next time your microwave goes on the fritz or you forget to pick up milk at the store, pick up a copy of A Bride Goes West. I guarantee this American woman will put things in perspective for you.
THE SONG–Two-Step ‘Round the Christmas Tree. I was in Wyoming on my honeymoon when I heard this song for the first time. It truly has special memories for me. Give a listen and get to dancin’!
The Poem–The Creak of the Leather. The absolute maestro of cowboy poetry is the legendary Bruce Kiskadon. And if this poem doesn’t make you want to strap on a pair of spurs and jump in the saddle and ride out and cut down a Christmas tree, check your pulse!
THE CREAK OF THE LEATHER
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)
It’s likely that you can remember
A corral at the foot of a hill
Some mornin’ along in December
When the air was so cold and so still.
When the frost lay as light as a feather
And the stars had jest blinked out and gone.
Remember the creak of the leather
As you saddled your hoss in the dawn.
When the glow of the sunset had faded
And you reached the corral after night
On a hoss that was weary and jaded
And so hungry yore belt wasn’t tight.
You felt about ready to weaken
You knowed you had been a long way
But the old saddle still kep a creakin’
Like it did at the start of the day.
Perhaps you can mind when yore saddle
Was standin’ up high at the back
And you started a whale of a battle
When you got the old pony untracked.
How you and the hoss stuck together
Is a thing you caint hardly explain
And the rattle and creak of the leather
As it met with the jar and the strain.
You have been on a stand in the cedars
When the air was so quiet and dead
Not even some flies and mosquitoes
To buzz and make noise ’round yore head.
You watched for wild hosses or cattle
When the place was as silent as death
But you heard the soft creak of the saddle
Every time the hoss took a breath.
And when the round up was workin’
All day you had been ridin’ hard
There wasn’t a chance of your shirkin’
You was pulled for the second guard
A sad homesick feelin’ come sneakin’
As you sung to the cows and the moon
And you heard the old saddle a creakin’
Along to the sound of the tune.
There was times when the sun was shore blazin’
On a perishin’ hot summer day
Mirages would keep you a gazin’
And the dust devils danced far away
You cussed at the thirst and the weather
You rode at a slow joggin’ trot
And you noticed somehow that the leather
Creaks different when once it gets hot.
When yore old and yore eyes have grown hollow
And your hair has a tinge of the snow
But there’s always the memories that follow
From the trails of the dim long ago.
There are things that will haunt you forever
You notice that strange as it seems
One sound, the soft creak of the leather,
Weaves into your memories and dreams.
Of course, though, the most wonderful, most amazing, most old-fashioned thing about Christmas is the birth of a savior two thousand years ago. Remember and celebrate the Reason for the Season: the One who was born to die for mankind.
And I hope you all have a very merry, very blessed, very old-fashioned Christmas!
Can you hear me now? I mean literally. Have you ever thought about listening to an audiobook? Several of my books are available for listening and more are coming. Audiobooks are awesome because you can get lost in a story while you’re cooking, cleaning, crafting, or whatever. I love them for long road trips. They make the time fly.
But there is a lot of work that goes into creating and producing an audiobook. One of the things that I have to do is listen to auditions of narrators who would like to read a book to you, gentle reader. So, just for the fun of it, please give a listen to this snippet from Talmadge Ragan’s audition to narrate Love, Lies, & Typewriters! She’s quite the professional.
And just for fun, here is me trying to be a professional narrator! I am reading from Locket Full of Love!
I hope you’ll check out my books over at Audible and give a listen. Listening really frees you up to do more!
This post first appeared at Cowboy Kisses, May 2017 by Heather Blanton
A simple question on the surface, I thought a quick Google would give me the answer. Turns out, a few females claim the honor. So after a little more serious digging, I came up with Mary Hallock Foote and her first novel, Led-Horse Claim: A Romance of a Mining Camp published in 1883.
Turns out, Mary was quite an interesting gal. Born in 1847 in New York to Quaker parents, she attended school at the very proper Female Collegiate Seminary in Poughkeepsie. Her gift for the creative arts convinced her father (clearly a forward-thinking man) to invest more in his daughter’s education. He sent her to Cooper School of Design for Women, and by her early twenties, Mary was a sought-after illustrator and designer for some of the most notable publishers in New York City. She loved her job. She loved the city. But she loved a man more.
In 1876, she married Arthur De Wint Foote, a young mining engineer whose career would take her deep into the wild-and-wooly Western frontier. Mary saw it all. From Deadwood to Leadville, from Idaho to Mexico.
Impressed, sometimes astonished, at the characters populating these rowdy mining towns, Mary wrote and illustrated dozens of articles for readers “back East.” She quickly gained the reputation for being one of the sharpest observers of, and most civilizing influences on, the bawdy mining, and ditch (irrigation) towns out west. According to an article in the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, “The Victorian gentlewoman traveled the American West dressed in hoop skirt and petticoats, insisting that her children be educated by an English nanny and fed by a Chinese cook, so that she could work on her illustrations and stories, without interruption.”
What this quote doesn’t tell you is that Mary didn’t have time to raise the children because she had to help put bread on the table. Her husband’s career as a surveyor and civil engineer was difficult, at best, due to his unswerving honesty. Apparently, fudging numbers was expected in the mining industry, but Arthur didn’t play along. Hence, the continual moves from one town to the next. But Mary wrote about it all and her short stories and serials gained in popularity. They were published alongside the likes of Rudyard Kipling. Her articles and observations of life in the Wild West were met with lavish reviews, especially by those who could recognize the ring of authenticity—because they lived it.
Mary’s stories leaned more toward Western romance, though, as opposed to Owen Wister-style shoot-outs and brawls. She wrote fifteen novels in all. However, her husband eventually landed a job managing a mine in California and as his salary increased, Mary’s hectic writing pace decreased. Her last book was published in 1919. She didn’t seem to miss writing.
Mary and Arthur were married for nearly sixty years. She, ever hardy and determined, lived until the ripe old age of 90. Unfortunately, while her life was long, her fame was not. It is nearly impossible to find the complete collection of Mary’s works now, even on Amazon. What a loss for the Western Romance genre.
I love old books and am always looking to read more. Please feel free to suggest some!
How did all this come about? It’s one crazy God-story!
I was on facebook private messaging with my assistant when I happened to see actor Matt Williams announce that he’d done well in an audition, got the part, and probably another one. I hopped over to just quickly congratulate him. He commented back that he’d like to get a part when one of my books was made into a movie. I said, “Well, it just so happens that I do have a script for A Lady in Defiance, but I haven’t done anything with it.”
Matt immediately private messaged me and asked me about this book. I told him to date it had sold over 50,000 copies and I did write a script for it, passed it around to a few professionals in the industry, but they wanted me to make some changes to it. I wasn’t averse to doing that, I just didn’t feel like working on the script. Really, I’m a novelist.
Matt said there was someone he wanted me to meet and even over the facebook messenger I could hear his excitement!
The next day Micah Lyons reached out to me and wanted to know all about my Defiance books. After a few days of back-and-forth, he made me an offer! And get this–in the course of our conversations, Micah mentioned that he’d seen A Lady in Defiance one day in a Books-a-Million and kept the story in the back of his head! Honestly, we both took that as a sign.
I suddenly realized I might be on the verge of a life-changing decision and reached out to some wonderful folks like Brian Bird and Bodie Thoene for some advice. They were kind enough to offer their thoughts. Like get an agent, don’t give Micah the option on all three books, etc. Then JD Dewitt of 5×5 Productions answered my inquiry and wanted to talk.
JD is precious. I love her to death. Her favorite genre is Westerns and she had already read A Lady in Defiance back in 2013! In short, she now represents me and helped hammer out the deal with Breath of Life Productions.
As I mentioned, one of the things that some professionals recommended I NOT do was give Breath of Life the option on all three books. In case the first one sold, then I should have the ability, they argued, to maneuver for a better deal on books 2 and 3, maybe with a bigger producer. Honestly, that just didn’t feel right to me. Micah was the first producer to look at this project and want to commit immediately to a series, not just one movie. He said he couldn’t see it any other way. That was when I knew. The “up-and-comer” in Hollywood had to have his shot. If Breath of Life Productions and Micah can sell this project, then they deserve to handle all of it.
I’ve heard NOTHING but good things about Micah Lyons and have enjoyed my talks with him immensely. A Godly young man, he is living in a dark kingdom and taking the Light to it.
I say let’s take the good news to those living in Defiance! I hope you’ll pray for this project. We would all appreciate it very much.
Now, a question. Who would you like to see play Naomi Miller and Charles McIntyre? I vote Reese Witherspoon for Naomi, but I’m still deciding on Charles!
“We may destroy all the men in America, and we shall still have all we can do to defeat the women.”
Lord Cornwallis, British general, and Washington’s nemesis.
In the fall of 1878, Deborah Samson, at the fiery age of 18, enlisted in the Continental Army…as a man. Spending the next three years as Robert Shirtliffe, Deborah did her part to secure liberty and freedom for America. She served in various capacities under Capt. Nathan Thayer and proved herself a capable, willing, and courageous Massachusetts soldier.
Talk about fight like a girl…
Never one to run from a battle, Deborah dove right in with the best and the bravest. She was shot once in the leg, nicked in the head by a British sword, then shot again in the other leg. All three times she refused medical attention so as not to have her ruse discovered. Unfortunately, she came down with a “brain fever” in 1781 and was treated by a Dr. Binney of Philadelphia. Imagine his surprise!
He forthwith moved Deborah to his own home for recovery and sent a note to Capt. Thayer. Upon her recovery, Deborah was called to General Washington’s office. The legends differ here on what exactly happened next. Some say she was asked to deliver papers to the General, at which point he gave her the papers of discharge. Other stories say she delivered the papers, was called back to pick up new dispatches, and then Gen. Washington handed her the discharge papers. What all the stories agree on is that Washington chose not to publicly reprimand or embarrass Deborah. He handed her the discharge papers, without comment, and also handed her the soldier’s pay due her, and a note of advice.
The note was lost to history, but knowing General Washington’s respect for women and his wry sense of humor, it probably said something to the effect of, “Now that you’ve shown my men how to fight, I think it is time you return to the duties of your fair sex. Thank you for your service to your country.”
Eventually, Deborah married a farmer named Gannet and had (naturally) three daughters. Ironically, she named the youngest one Patience.
Oh, yes, indeed, a true Lady in Defiance.
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Phoebe Wilson Couzins was, to say the least, a trailblazer for women. She was one of the first female lawyers in the United States, the first female U.S. marshal, and, not surprising, an outspoken supporter of the suffragist movement. But temperance, not so much …
Phoebe was born on September 8, 1842 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father John E. D. Couzins was an architect, builder, and a natural leader. Traits he passed to his daughter. During the Civil War, John served as the city’s chief of police and sought to keep Missouri in the Union. Adaline, Phoebe’s mother, was a member of the Ladies’ Union Aid Society in St. Louis and volunteered as a battlefield nurse.
After the war, Phoebe, inspired by her parents, joined the St. Louis Woman Suffrage Association. The inability of a woman to vote incensed her, considering all the things a woman could do. She made a name for herself in the organization and, encouraged by a family friend, applied and was admitted to Washington University Law School in St. Louis.
In 1871, Phoebe became the first female law graduate from GWU! She practiced law for two months but the suffragette movement called her name. She began traveling across the country to give speeches in favor of women’s rights.
In 1884, Phoebe’s father was appointed U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Missouri and he swore her in as one of his deputies. When he died three years later, she served as the interim U.S. marshal, appointed by President Grover Cleveland. She was the first woman to serve in the position.
Not interested in being a lawman, though, she eventually moved to Washington, DC. She made a modest living as a writer, but maintained her involvement with the women’s rights movement. New blood entered into the suffragette arena, though, and Phoebe’s contributions, as well her Old Iron Pants attitude, tended to alienate the more politically-savvy ladies. Not to mention, Phoebe liked her high balls, and many of the suffragettes were passionate about the evils of alcohol. Hence, these last years were stormy ones for Phoebe. She hung in there, fighting the good fight, while, ironically, working as a lobbyist for a brewery.
Phoebe died in St. Louis in 1913 and was buried wearing her US marshal’s badge. Here’s to you, Phoebe!
By Heather Blanton
By Heather Blanton
Recently, many cities and towns across America held municipal elections. The turn-out is abysmally low for these. If you did not vote for your mayor or town council, Abigail Scott Duniway might just have a few choice words for you.
Abigail was the second daughter in a family of nine children. In 1852 she and her parents emigrated to Oregon from Illinois. In 1853, after teaching school for a bit, she married Benjamin Duniway. The couple would have six children.
Benjamin was a decent farmer but not much of a businessman. They sold their first farm in Clackamas County, OR and moved to a new one in Lafayette. During this time, Benjamin co-signed on a note for a friend, putting his farm up for collateral. Abigail, to say the least, was not on board with this plan. The friend defaulted and the Duniways lost their farm. In the throes of eviction, financial chaos, and finding a new place to live, Benjamin was severely disabled in a wagon accident, and upkeep of the family fell to Abigail.
She ran a boarding school and taught for a spell, and eventually opened her own business. In her attempts to keep a roof over her family’s head, Abigail was frustrated on occasion by the necessity to involve Benjamin in even simple legal decisions. Being the man in the house, his signature was often required on documents.
For five years Abigail ran a millinery. She heard countless stories there of other women disenfranchised by the legal system, powerless to fight for their rights, especially in regards to personal property. Just based on her own experiences, it’s easy to see why she thought the system was stupid. Hence, she became loudly and eloquently vocal about the injustices. Recognizing her passion, Benjamin encouraged Abigail to open a newspaper focused on women’s rights and suffrage. The Duniways knew that without the right to vote, nothing would ever change for the women of Oregon.
Interestingly, Abigail’s brother Harvey was the editor for The Oregonian and the siblings butted heads, or columns, vehemently over voting rights for women. Harvey was against them and his opposition was instrumental in seeing the motions defeated time and again.
But the women of Oregon persisted. In 1912 the state finally passed a women’s suffrage amendment. The governor himself asked Abigail to write the Equal Suffrage Proclamation sharing the news.
She was 78 years young.
Guest story today is from Maria Tonseth!
My dad and his three brothers grew up on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio.
They were all close in age and were inseparable, as if they were more of
best friends rather than brothers. Everyone around town knew the brothers
and often referred to them as the “Tonseth rascals,” because more than
likely they were getting into trouble from playing pranks of the neighbors.
My dad’s biggest dream was to play a prank on his 5th grade teacher, Ms.
During a cold and snowy December, the four brothers built a snow fort and
filled it with snowballs to launch at cars as they drove by. While rolling
the perfect snowballs, my dad came up with the great idea to stack hundreds
of snowballs on Ms. Garrison’s car, who lived three doors down from
their house. After many treks to her house to cover it with hundreds,
yes hundreds, of snowballs, the “Tonseth rascals” admired their finished
product and quickly ran home to celebrate their accomplishment. The
brothers couldn’t wait to tell their friends at school what they did to Ms.
But right as the brothers were walking into their driveway, their mother
and Ms. Garrison were waiting on the porch bundled up in scarves and
jackets and drinking hot chocolate. They were laughing away as the “Tonseth rascals” stood there: jaws opened and dumbfounded. My grandmother was a teacher and friends with Ms. Garrison, and she had come over to enjoy hot cocoa and catch up on their lives. Instead, she was entertained by secretly watching the four brothers stack hundreds of snowballs on her car. Needless to say, she made just my father pick every single snowball off her car, and then my grandmother allowed his brothers to throw them at him. Guess the prank was on my dad.
Today’s Lady in Defiance is submitted by Mary Margaret Smith
Back in the early 50’s, my grandma was a young divorcee with an 8 year old
daughter by her first marriage, and my granddaddy was a young widower.
When they met, my grandma had taken a bookkeeping class at a local college
and her teacher recommended her to my granddaddy, who had recently returned
home from the war and started a furniture business. He hired her and they
soon began dating, often going out after work.
However, Burlington was a pretty small town at the time, and in a year or
two my grandma heard a rumor that, even though he was supposedly dating my
grandma exclusively, he was dating local schoolteacher on the weekends!
She found the rumor to be true, and without even saying anything to my granddaddy, she
decided to leave town. She had a sister who had moved out to Hawaii
several years before, so she packed up her whole home and life, and had all
her possessions shipped in crates to Hawaii. She and my aunt flew out the
My granddaddy figured out what had happened and managed to get hold of her
when she was in St. Louis for a night with an uncle of hers. He told her
he had broken up with the other woman and begged her to come back, but she
refused. She told him, “If you love me that much, you’ll have to come all
the way to Hawaii and get me!”
So, my grandma and her young daughter flew all the way to Hawaii. The day
after their arrival, my granddaddy appeared on her doorstep! He told her that he
had been a complete idiot and proposed right there. They were married in a
quaint little church in Hawaii two days later, and then turned right around and headed
back to North Carolina! In fact, they were married and left Hawaii before the
crates of all my grandma’s possessions had even arrived there!
My grandparents remained married the rest of their lives, and I really have
never seen two people more in love, but I’ve also never really heard a
story of a marriage so unique as this one! It’s also pretty scary to think
how close they came to losing each other forever, but whenever my
granddaddy told the story, he insisted that he would never have let that
happen. And up until his death a few years ago, my grandma would never
tell the story without jokingly reminding granddaddy how much he had goofed
up when he tried double-crossing her!
Mary Margaret Smith
“No one will vote for her. She’s a woman.”
And so started a joke that launched a sleepy Kansas town to international fame—as the first municipality in America to elect a woman mayor.
In 1882, Susanna Madora “Dora” Kinsey Salter moved with her husband Lewis to the quiet little town of Argonia. The couple managed a hardware store while Lewis sought the opportunity to read law with a local attorney. When things fell into place for him, Dora’s parents moved to town as well to take over the mercantile. Her father, Oliver Kinsey was elected mayor of the hamlet and husband Lewis Salter became the City Clerk.
Though busy having and raising children, Dora’s Christians convictions compelled her to support the Christian Women’s Temperance Union. This group was one of the less radical suffragist and temperance organizations in the country, as it mixed Christian morals with equality and compassion. But it was a group that decried alcohol, which didn’t win its members any friends in the drinking population. As a joke, a group of imbibers put Dora’s name on the ballot for mayor in ‘87, knowing she would earn a pitifully embarrassing number of votes.
These men neglected to tell Dora’s husband of the prank. Lewis was not amused when he went to vote and discovered his wife’s name at the top of his ballot.
Even more shocking, Dora won with over 2/3 of the town’s votes.
She accepted the office and Lewis, who again won City Clerk, regained his good humor. He often joked about being “married to the mayor.” The election made international news and a shining star out of the 27-year-old Dora, but it did not ignite her political passions. A year into her term, she announced she wouldn’t run for re-election.
By all accounts, this determined young lady was a fine parliamentarian, wise legislator, and dignified public servant. She went out of her way to work with the all-male town council, carefully soothing over ruffled rooster feathers. But she would probably tell you her finest hour as mayor occurred when she delivered her fifth child.
She loved her town and her causes, but she loved her family more. Though she stayed an active member of the CWTU for many years, she never again “ran” for public office, to the dismay of many suffragists. Perhaps because too many of them expected Dora to think “their” way. Putting family above voting rights offended some big names in the movement. Carrie Nation once scolded Dora for heading off to a football game instead of a meeting. Dora replied, “Not go to the game? Why, I have a son on the team!”
Now that’s A Lady in Defiance.
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton