Lilian Heath. Such a demure name.
She was anything but.
In the 1880s, Lilian’s pa got her a job assisting Dr. Thomas Maghee, the physician
in the wide-open railroad town of Rawlins, WY. A petite little thing still in high school, Lilian was pretty fearless, but not stupid. She dressed like a man and carried a .32 when she went on calls late at night. She and the doc did everything from delivering babies to reconstruct a man’s face after his failed suicide attempt.
The nursing position set Lilian’s destiny. She graduated high school, and, with her father’s blessing and Dr. Maghee’s recommendation, headed off to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Keokuk, Iowa. She was one of only three women in the class. After completing her training, she returned to Rawlins to practice medicine and was well-received … by the menfolk. The women in town were another story. Catty, and jealous, they whispered behind her back, accused her of being a know-it-all, a few even refused to pay Lilian for services rendered. Lilian’s mother Calista wasn’t thrilled with the vocation either, believing her daughter had over-stepped her bounds as a woman.
Maybe, but if a man lay dying of a gunshot wound 30 or 40 miles away, Lilian put on her big girl breeches and made the ride.
Clearly, being a trained female physician was a bad thing, because you could, you know, save lives.
Lilian met her husband, Louis Nelson, in Rawlins and they were married in 1898. He was a painter and a decorator. Go figure. Lilian practiced medicine for fifteen years and then quietly retired, though she kept her medical license current much, much longer than that.
Unfortunately, you can’t read any article about Lilian that doesn’t mention her “connection” to an outlaw. In 1881, while Lilian was still in high school and a candy-striper, for all intents, Big Nose George Parrot was lynched for murdering a deputy. When no one claimed the body, Doctor Maghee stepped up. Curious to see if the bandit’s brain was somehow deformed, he dissected the man’s head, in the name of science. Lilian assisted with the autopsy and was given Big Nose George’s skull cap as a souvenir. She kept it for years, using it for everything from a doorstop to a pipe holder.
Reporters loved to mention that story as if it was her greatest achievement.
My guess is, there were a few members of the press she would have liked to use as doorstops.
But she didn’t let the claws or the snipes get to her. Lilian never gave in, never backed down, never lost faith. I say thanks for paving the way!
Love conquers all. Eventually, right? One of my favorite stories of a determined man finally winning the heart of his beloved is the true tale of Ethel and John Love. Yes, Love. This is the story of a girl who held out against this love-struck sheepherder for five years…but John wore her down. I hereby republish this blog from 2012.
Again, I am intrigued to read between the lines. A city girl leaves Denver, degree in hand, to accept a job as a teacher on a Wyoming ranch. Her classroom consists of seven students. During her school year, she meets her future husband, a handsome, ambitious sheepherder. It takes this stubborn Scotsman five years and dozens of sappy letters to convince Ethel to accept his proposal. What was she waiting on?
Born into a relatively wealthy family, Ethel Phoebe Waxham was a fearless young thing with a big heart. She spent a summer volunteering in the slums of New York if that tells you anything. In 1905 she finished at Wellesly and took a job teaching the children on the Red Bluff Ranch in Wyoming. Her letters indicate she fell madly in love with the place and its people, but not so much with rancher John Love. Oh, she liked him well enough and appreciated the fact that he made the eleven-hour ride to see her several times during the school year. Ethel, though, apparently wasn’t ready to settle down. She had, you know, places to go, people to see, things to learn. Or was she simply afraid marriage might mean her life would pass into obscurity?
At the end of that first teaching job, she enrolled in the University of Colorado to obtain a master’s in literature. That’s when the letters started arriving. Lots of them. John Love made no secret of why he was writing. Ethel needed to be his wife and he would wait for her. No matter how long it took. Unless and until she married another.
When Ethel received her degree in 1907, she took a job in Wisconsin, again as a teacher. Still the letters followed. And she answered, often with an apology that she shouldn’t. She didn’t want to give him false hope, after all. Once she even scolded him for closing his letter with “ever yours,” instead of the customary “sincerely yours.” Yet, Ethel did not entwine her life with any other men. She didn’t often attend dances or parties. Strange girl. It’s almost as if she was the female version of George Bailey. Perhaps restless, she moved back to Colorado in 1908 and continued her work, but where was her heart, I wonder?
Ethel spoke four languages, enjoyed writing, especially poetry, even staged theatrical productions. But that sheepherder, who by now was doing pretty well for himself, wouldn’t give her any peace. Finally, this fiercely independent American girl caved. The two were married in 1910 and remained together the rest of their lives, happy by all accounts.
If you’d like to know more about John and Ethel, check out this piece from PBS. It’s worth the read.
Abortion. Yeah. I’m going there.
As a history freak, I’m pretty well acquainted with how hard life was for the women who settled and–might I add–fought–for this country. Sometimes they manned cannons or rode through hell and high water to deliver intelligence. They fought marauding Indians, beat off snakes with sticks, stared down cattle rustlers, stamped out brush fires with handmade quilts, heck, even crawled through blizzards. And a lot of the time our ancestors did these amazing feats with babies in their arms and toddlers clinging to their apron strings.
I read somewhere the average woman in the 19th century had six children. Most of these ladies probably would have liked to stop before then. Six babies is a lot, but having them was a fact of life because successful birth control (short of abstinence) wasn’t a fact of life. I surmise, however, if they’d had magic wands and could have “undone” any of these pregnancies, I’d bet 99.99% of these gals would have balked at the proposition. In fact, I’d bet they’d be willing to walk through hell covered in gasoline to protect their infants.
Fast forward to the 1970s when all a woman had to do to prevent pregnancy was pop a pill or slap a condom on her partner. Yet, Democrats and spineless Republicans pushed ahead (Roe v. Wade) to legalize abortion, though with “strict limitations” because those words make “murder” so much more palatable. Pro-lifers warned this was a slippery slope; man is after all evil and rebellious at heart.
So here we are today. The New York state legislature comes along and votes into law the right of a woman to kill her baby in the 3rd trimester. And she doesn’t even have to have a doctor perform the homicide. I heard this morning the Virginia legislature is considering a similar bill.
If you know me, you know I’m not politically correct so it won’t surprise you where I come down on these horrific “laws.” I am DEEPLY DISGUSTED by New York Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and NY State Senator Liz Krueger and Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran. The “sponsors” of these bills. I’d call them death merchants.
Ladies, a law that allows the murder of a child for no reason other than the baby is an inconvenience is diabolical. Abominable. Dastardly. Evil. Heinous. Soulless. As are you.
And I’m sorry for you.
I can talk politics all day long and not lose my temper. THIS is the one issue on which I struggle to maintain patience and kindness. I’m not just dealing with ignorance or fear (as I see so often when discussing the 2nd Am), this is EVIL. Pure and simple. And I stand in Defiance of it.
Pray, people, pray. Vote Pro-Life. Donate to pro-life candidates. Support our pro-life president.
Our ancestors didn’t fight and struggle to keep their children alive to build this nation and settle a country just so we could treat human lives as if they are less valuable than cattle. Think about it. If the politicians feel this way about a 9-month old baby in the womb, who’s next? Senior citizens? The mentally challenged? Jews?
Can I get an amen?
I couldn’t resist sharing this tale with y’all. I was doing a little research and stumbled across the story of Kate McHale Slaughterback. Born in Longmont, CO in 1894, Kate was a pistol. By all accounts, she was strong-willed, independent, arguably surly, and she did not like to be told what to do. By anybody. Which may account for several failed marriages.
Perhaps headstrong to a fault, I can’t help but think this is the very flaw that saved her life and created her legend. You see, Mrs. Slaughterback came to be known as “Rattlesnake” Kate because she killed a few of the critters one afternoon–over 140 of them. One. Hundred. Forty.
As you might expect, the indpendent Kate could handle a gun. One afternoon she and her three-year-old son ventured down to a local pond. Some duck hunters had been there earlier and Kate thought she might have the chance to bag a wounded one for dinner. Walking back to her son and her horse, she noted a rattler crawling across her path and popped him with her .22. But another rattler appeared. And another. The ground literally started squirming with writhing, hissing, rattling snakes, scores of them, separating her from her little boy.
Kate shot rattlers until she ran out of ammo then she snatched up a sign (that supposedly read NO HUNTING) and went all Samson on the reptiles. For over two hours, she bludgeoned, kicked, stomped, and smashed snakes. Finally, she had a path open and made a beeline to her boy.
A neighbor noted her disheveled appearance when she returned home and she shared her story. Whether to prove the truth of it or gather up the skins, she and the neighbor returned to the site of the massacre. Color him appropriately impressed and he spread the story. The tale went viral, especially once the newspapers got hold of it, and like reporters were apparently compelled to do in those days, they gave Kate a moniker, dubbing her “Rattlesnake” Kate.
Kate was a skilled taxidermist and entrepreneur. Her fame allowed her to sell rattlesnake souvenirs, but she also made herself a dress out of the hides. Upon her death in Greely, CO in 1969, the garment was donated to the history museum there.
Now, I just want to say, what Kate did was crazy amazing. But as an arachnophobic, I can totally understand it. FEAR can make you insanely strong. If Kate was as afraid of snakes as I am of spiders, I can easily understand going whirling-dervish mad and killing snakes in a blind rage of fear and fury. And then you strand her child on the other side of the reptilian river? Oh, yeah, this is a Mama Grizzly story.
Can you imagine what she might have done if she’d had the jawbone of an ass?
Henry Long Feather leaned against a tree and studied the white woman. She taught the children from the Bar FB three days a week and often brought them out of the little shack Fairbanks had built for a school. This was a rare thing for a white teacher to do, but she—Laurie Wilcox—was different from most whites Long Feather knew.
She was older, like him. Perhaps fifty summers or so, but youth still lived in her smooth skin and ready smile. Everything about her was light and delicate and fascinating to him. From her long, golden braid that gleamed even when there was no sun, to her slight nose, to her haunting eyes—the icy blue of a stream in winter. But they warmed him, like now.
She raised her gaze over the heads of her students and beamed at him. “Mr. Long Feather. Come to join us for a lesson?”
A dozen little cowboy hats and twin braids all swung round to him, showing young faces bright with curiosity. Shoving his hands into his pants pockets, he pushed off the tree and strode over to them more than happy to forget the event with the bull. “Not today, Mrs. Wilcox. I have come for Joseph.” He tapped the top of a brown hat and the freckled-face boy of eight beneath it grimaced up at him. “Yes, you. Your father has need of you in the blacksmith barn. He asked me to send you over.”
“Aw,” the boy moaned, kicking at a dirt clod.
“That’s perfect timing. We just finished our lesson.” Mrs. Wilcox snapped her Bible shut. “You go on, Joseph. Don’t keep your father waiting. The rest of you,” she surveyed the ring of a dozen or so students, “Spelling test tomorrow. Make sure you study.”
The children gave her their own collective groan and drifted away, a few darting for trouble at various places on the ranch. When they were gone, their teacher rocked on her heels and smiled up at Long Feather, an awkward kind of sign that he couldn’t read. But there was much he did not understand about Mrs. Wilcox.
“What kept you busy today, Mr. Long Feather?”
He shrugged, not quite prepared to share all the details of his day. “The boys brought in a couple of Indian ponies Fairbanks wants me to train to the saddle. They are willing. It will not be much work.” Unlike this new task of training Joel Chapman. “And you, Mrs. Wilcox? What does a teacher do with herself when the students have gone?”
“Please, call me Miss Laurie. Everyone does.” He nodded, acquiescing to her request and she continued. “I have my own homework—some papers to grade.” She bit her bottom lip and tilted her head in a way that made him want to brush his hand down her cheek. “Could I see them? The Indian ponies.”
“Surely.” The answer slipped out before he’d had a chance to think about it. A missionary, Miss Laurie was liked on the ranch, but the hands kept their distance, as if her religion might be catching. Long Feather harbored no such fear. Instead, he wondered what they would say about her strolling with an Indian if she wasn’t preaching at him.
She scrunched her forehead at him. “You don’t want to show me?”
Her perceptiveness caught him off guard. “No, it is not that. You are a white woman.”
“Yes, I was born with the affliction.”
Her joke took a moment to light on his brain, but when it did, he offered her a reserved chuckle. “You don’t understand—”
“I understand perfectly, Mr. Long Feather. And as a child of God, I love all people. I can’t help what others think about that. I don’t let their prejudices dictate with whom I stroll.”
He pushed a hand over his mouth, sighed, and gestured back toward the way he’d come. “After you.”
Hmmm. What trouble awaits this relationship? I hope you’ll read and find out. Get your copy today!
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!
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!
Day 2 Thursday
Deadwood at 6 in the morning. As quiet as the name would suggest. I walked around the main street and got some great shots.
It seemed the wild-and-wooly past was a little closer without the tourists and cars drowning it out. I gazed up at buildings that pioneers had looked at. I couldn’t help but wonder at the people who risked so much to build this little town.
We stayed in the Bullock Hotel and the little restaurant is just as historic as the rest of the building. Tin tiles in the ceiling. A huge fireplace in the room. A little saloon-style bar behind which the chef whipped up some simple but yummy breakfast items—and the biggest cinnamon roll I’ve ever seen in my life!
I realized that morning that I had no way to get photos from the memory stick in my camera to my Mac so after breakfast, Dawn and I drove over to Spearfish. A pretty big town—it has a Walmart! The drive over was gorgeous. The Black Hills of SD really are truly haunting, even a little mystical. While there, we had lunch at a lovely little coffee shop/café that seemed to serve a lot of college students. Turns out, Black Hills State is located there. I want to remember the veranda we sat on, the warm, dry air, the stunning blue sky and mountains in the distance. On the way into Spearfish, we saw a homeless guy sitting at an intersection. On the way out of town, we took him a sandwich and gave him a little money. Yeah, he might drink up the cash, but we gave to be a blessing and show Jesus. No judging.
Now, one of the interesting things about Deadwood is how it’s situated between two steep, mountain walls. And I do mean steep.
There are several old, Victorian homes up there. We were so curious to see them up close so Dawn and I ventured up there—I felt like I was back home in Western North Carolina! I mean we are talking narrow, twisty little roads. I don’t know how these people get around in the winter! But what a view!
We still had some time before check-in, so we made the trek to the cemetery. The day was warm, even by my Southern standards, and we took the stairs from the street which cuts the walk in half but doubles the difficulty. I thought my sister—who has asthma—was going to kill me. Mt. Moriah Cemetery is one of the most beautiful, peaceful, and historic graveyards I’ve ever visited. I mean, you don’t get to see “Killed by Indians” on too many tombstones. For a Western writer, that’s kind of a thrill.
The first event of the Wild Deadwoods Read program was a meet-and-greet. While I am not a huge social butterfly, I was pretty much ready to leave after we collected our lanyards and swag bag. But we did meet up with authors Kari Trumbo and Danica Favorite, two of my fellow authors from the Brides of Blessings series. Starting to run out of gas, Dawn and I split for dinner in the hotel and brought Kari with us. She’s really sweet and a great writer. You should check out her work!
And with that, we called it a night. In Deadwood. Love it!
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