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From the Ashes of Disaster, a Legend was Born

She lifted the lid on her trunk and sighed at the sight of her corset. Why did she keep that thing around? She picked it up, contemplating tossing it in the stove and burning it.

Have you ever had something so horrific happen in your life you just couldn’t believe for an instant God would bring anything good out of the experience? When I read the true story of Juliet Watts I was profoundly impacted by how she not only survived her ordeal but lived a full, fruitful life. She was a survivor AND an overcomer. She is also the inspiration for the character in my novel Locket Full of Love (which is on sale today!).

In Locket, there is a ten-year gap from the opening to when we see Juliet again. I wrote a short story about her during this time and gave it away exclusively to my newsletter subscribers. Here is a sneak peek at Juliet’s Corset (the Short Story)

She lifted the lid on her trunk and sighed at the sight of her corset. Why did she keep that thing around? She picked it up, contemplating tossing it in the stove and burning it.

“My, that looks like it’s got a story behind it.” Sam, the grizzled, weathered bartender she’d met the day she found the saloon, stood in the doorway, her valise in his hand.

25319883_10214254961275504_324551914_o Juliet sucked on her cheek, the memories flashing through her mind as fast as lightning. “Saved the woman’s life who was wearing it.”

“No kidding?” Sam stepped in and set the valise on the bed, his pock-marked, gritty face alight with curiosity. He peered around Juliet for a better look. Not nearly as enamored with it as he appeared to be, she handed it to him.

The big man inspected the undergarment carefully, pausing over every tear, every rip, and especially the hole in the front. “Saved her life, eh?” After a moment, his hand stilled. “I remember hearing tell years ago of a woman the Comanches tried to…harm and the corset stopped an arrow.” He regarded Juliet with one raised brow and narrowed eyes. “I thought that was just another tall tale out of Texas. How’d you come by this?”

She almost offered a dismissive answer but gave in to his curiosity out of sheer weariness. “It was me. I was wearing that corset when the Comanche hit Rimfire. I survived. My husband did not.”

Sam’s expression melted into sympathy and he nodded. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

She plucked the corset from his hands and tossed it back into her trunk. “Yes. Thank you.”

With her back to Sam, she thought he might understand she was done discussing the past, but he didn’t leave. A moment later, he moved off to her left so he could see her profile. “Ain’t really any of my business, but the busiest saloon in town has a twelve foot stuffed grizzly on display. The owner shot it up in Montana territory. It brings in a lot of people to the Big Bear Saloon.”

Was he suggesting…? Juliet cut her eyes at him. “You think I should…?” What was he saying?

“I think a lot more men in this town would rather see the Iron Rose of Texas and the garment that saved her life.”

“The Iron—” The Iron Rose? She’d never heard the name. It both horrified and flattered her. After a moment’s thought, however, she decided she did not wish to perpetuate what it implied. “I don’t think I want that moniker.” She sat down on the bed. “I’m alive because I wore a corset they had no idea how to undo. I didn’t fight them off single-handedly in wild combat.” She swallowed against the knot forming in her throat. “I’m no Calamity Jane. I just got lucky.”

Sam scratched his chin thoughtfully, shoved his hands into pockets and nodded. “Seems to me, God was watching out for you.”

She clamped her jaws. She hated hearing that. People who said that didn’t wake up in the middle of the night, bathed in sweat, choking back a  scream caused by nightmares so real…

She sighed and stood up again, ready to end this conversation. “Thank you, Sam,” she said curtly. “I’ll see you downstairs in a bit.”

His face, wise, wrinkled, melted a little in obvious hurt and Juliet felt as if she’d kicked a dog. But she couldn’t talk about God…he was too cruel, too distant. If he was really a loving God, maybe one day he’d shove past her anger and show himself, but she wasn’t holding her breath.

Juliet had helped Hugh enough in their mercantile to understand the inventory management of a saloon. Not to mention, Sam was a great help. No, the hard part about running a saloon was managing the patrons. Bossy, arrogant, sometimes inebriated, expecting things from Juliet they had no business expecting.

Tired of the continual argument to protect her reputation, she pushed a beer across the bar and frowned at the grinning, hopeful sailor reaching for it. “I said no, James, and my no means exactly that.”

In his late twenties perhaps, tanned and weathered from life in the elements, he was man enough to understand her meaning. Yet, a devilish glee still played around his lips and she was wary. He was a River Rat, as these men called themselves. They ran the Missouri and the Mississippi aboard paddle wheelers and flatboats, only stepping ashore long enough to entertain themselves for an evening and then back to the water they went. They didn’t seem to have many rules and even fewer boundaries.

Well, Juliet was not here for his or any other Rat’s entertainment. “For the hundredth time,” she said slowly, “you can get beer or liquor here and that is all.”

James huffed, drummed his fingers on the mug of beer. The men on each side of him chuckled knowingly. Juliet had given them the same speech.

“Beer and liquor,” he repeated, his heavy Southern drawl drenching his words.

She gave him a slow, acquiescent dip of her chin.

“But see,” he leaned forward and lowered his voice, “you’re so pretty. I was thinking about you out on the wide water yesterday. I’ve got a silver eagle burning a hole in my pocket, just for you—”

“James,” Juliet snapped, losing her patience. “There are plenty of pretty girls down at the other end of the street.” Her raised voice drew the attention of several nearby patrons. A few smiled. A few did not. Hungry stares argued a consensus was growing Juliet should add herself to the list of drafts available in the Lost Sally. She moistened her lips and took a moment to calm down. “I think that beer is your last one here tonight.”

If you’d like to read the whole story, Juliet’s Corset, please subscribe to my newsletter and we’ll get it right out to you. For subscribing, you will ALSO get a free copy of A Lady in Defiance–the Lost Chapters. Readers really have enjoyed learning the backstory of my sisters before they left Carolina for Defiance.

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I Don’t Pull Punches. Why You SHOULD (and SHOULDN’T) Sign Up for My Newsletter

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Hey, have you signed up for my newsletter? Let me give it to you straight. Here’s why you SHOULD:

Newsletter subscribers get <FREE FREE FREE> 
  • Heather’s Haberdashery–ebook of loooong excerpts from SEVEN of my books
  • Monthly newsletters with:
    • Exclusive contests
    • Fun giveaways
    • Hints on my current work-in-progress
    • Scene and story X-Rays
    • A monthly profile of a REAL lady in defiance (like Annie Oakley or Agent 355)
    • And much more!

BUT, here’s why you SHOULDN’T sign up for my newsletter. You might not like:

  • Strong, sassy heroines
  • Men who are manly
  • Historical Christian Western Romance that entails the use of firearms, often in a threatening manner
  • Gunfights and fistfights
  • Politically incorrect but historically accurate language (but no cursing)
  • An inspirational story
  • A clear (but never heavy-handed) Gospel message
  • American values
28946358_10215120158704899_1748554081_o But if you are still in, hoss, all you have to do is sign up here and you’ll receive the FREE SAMPLE CHAPTERS (One file entitled Heather’s Haberdashery) and future newsletters.
Well, I’m off to see a man about a horse. Thanks for readin’. Hope you’ll sign up. God bless and happy trails!

 

 

 

Never Take A Whale Bone Corset to an Indian Fight

Doing research for my new book, I came across an amazing story of a woman with a steel backbone … and ribs to match!

Juliet Constance Ewing was born in Ireland, date unknown. On September 17, 1839, she and her brother, William G. Ewing, entered Texas as immigrants. And it was women like her who gave the state its reputation.

corset Juliet had the misfortune to suffer firsthand Texas’ change in policy toward Indians. Under the earlier leadership of Sam Houston, the Republic had few problems with the tribes, as he understood and respected them. His successor, Mirabeau B. Lamar, did not. He promised the extermination of the Comanches.

On July 18, 1840, Juliet married station manager Hugh Oren Watts. This same year, talks with the Comanches broke down and 35 braves were massacred by US troops. The tribe hit the warpath with a vengeance. Shockingly brutal attacks ensued, ending with the “Great Comanche Raid” that Texans still talk about today.

Just like Sherman would march through Georgia decades later, the Comanche thundered across Texas, burning, scalping, raping, and pillaging. When they attacked the small community of Linnville, where Juliet and William resided, the town was completely unprepared. Panicked, running for their lives, the townsfolk made a bee line for the boats in the bay, thinking to float out of reach of the marauders.

Only, William suddenly realized he’d left behind a gold watch. And went back for it. Juliet in tow. I don’t know which one was dumber.

William was killed and scalped. Juliet was taken captive. The Comanche spent most of the day pillaging the community, setting ransacked buildings on fire, and, no kidding, trying to figure out how to get Juliet out of her steel-boned corset.

Running out of time and exasperated by the infernal garment, the Indians tied Juliet to a tree and shot an arrow into her breast. Only, the steel ribbing and thick material slowed the arrow down enough so that it didn’t kill her. Merely lodged in her breast bone.

From his eye witness report, Robert Hall recalled, “A little further on I found Mrs. Watts. They had shot an arrow at her breast, but her steel corset saved her life. It had entered her body, but Isham Good and I fastened a big pocket knife on the arrow and pulled it out. She possessed great fortitude, for she never flinched, though we could hear the breastbone crack when the arrow came out.”

Ooooouch.

Clearly, Juliet was one tough customer. This should have been a big hint to her second husband.

She married Dr. James Stanton in 1842, but divorced him five years later – the first divorce in the new state of Texas. Oddly, the woman demanded nothing short of complete fidelity from her husband. He didn’t see it her way and for the disagreement, got to hand over to her the hotel the couple had opened. One of his better decisions.

Juliet’s third, and, thankfully, final, husband was a Dr. Richard Fretwell. They were married until her death in 1878.

I’ve no doubt Juliet was buried wearing her corset. Steel ribs to match her steel spine.


 

Check out my books below to find more ladies with the fighting spirit!

It’s How You Take Life. You Don’t Let it Take You. Cowboy Wisdom.

I will be fifty my next birthday. Some days I feel like a kid, some days I feel a little old, but I don’t feel fifty. My daddy used to say age is all in your mind. It’s how you take life. You don’t let it take you.

Connie Reeves is a great example of a woman who defied injuries, financial setbacks, and, yes, age, to spend her life doing what kept her young.

I saw this picture of Constance and just had to learn more about her!

I saw this picture of Constance and just had to learn more about her!

Connie was born in Eagles Pass, Texas, September 26,1901. Her grandfather gave her her first horse. She was 5 and, in that gift her destiny unfolded, though she didn’t know it at the time. Connie wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. In fact, she was one of the first women admitted to the University of Texas at Austin law school.

The Depression derailed her plans to go to law school, though, and she wound up teaching high school P.E., but the position didn’t come with enough challenges. Eager to give her students more than bruises from dodge ball, she started a cheerleading squad. And I mean one with style. According to the Texas State Historical Society, Connie’s girls “wore western-styled uniforms, consisting of blue flannel skirts, a blue bolero jacket, red satin blouse, a pearl grey Stetson hat, and a lasso rope attached by a loop at the waist of their skirt. The name of the squad was the Lassos.” The girls could throw the lassos, too, with impressive skill. They were invited to perform all over the state.

But the Depression dragged on and bills kept coming. For a little extra income, Connie hired out to teach horseback riding with her fiancé Harry Hamilton. This led to her teaching at Camp Waldemar…for the next sixty years. Estimates are she taught over 30,000 girls to ride.

She adored her students and, as it turned, a certain cowboy at the camp. Written like a romance novel, Jack Reeves was the handsome ranch hand who took care of the horses and he wanted to take care of Connie. She said yes in 1942. The two were happily married until his death in 1985.

Her love for horses and the Great American West earned Connie endless recognition and accolades, including induction into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. At the tender age of 100.

Perhaps more impressive, Connie never let a bad horse or fall stand between her and riding. She said she was bucked off a horse at least once for every year she rode. With dauntless determination, she climbed back into the saddle, year after year. Pins in one leg, numerous concussions, and countless broken bones not withstanding. She survived a traumatic riding accident at the age of 92 that required nine days in the hospital. Once healed, she put her foot right back in the stirrup.

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But, as perhaps is fitting, Connie’s eventual death was the result of a final, fateful ride. On August 5, 2003, she fell off her favorite horse and injured her neck. Connie Reeves rode off into the sunset twelve days later.

I doubt this lady in defiance would have had her death come about in any other way.

 

Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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Molly Goodnight — Another Rose in Texas

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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 molly_charles“When the ranch is in peace, no other life is more perfect.”

― Charles Goodnight

The Palo Duro Canyon in the panhandle of Texas is 10 miles wide, 1500 feet deep and almost 100 miles long. And in the 1870’s, it was about as remote as the moon. At least for a white gal from TN.

Yet, Mary Ann “Molly” Dyer Goodnight willingly followed her husband from their ranch in CO to the harsh, unforgiving frontier. Neither she nor Charles could conceive of the fame and legend their JA Ranch would build. Molly Goodnight was a force of nature, as tough as a Texas twister, as indomitable as the landscape, and Charles was all the better for her tenacity.

An orphan who had spent years raising her siblings, Molly met Charles in Fort Belknap, Texas, in 1864 where she was working as a school teacher. After they married, they ran a ranch together in Colorado, but a combination of unstable economics and bad weather drove them out of business. Returning to Texas, Goodnight struck up a friendship with the wealthy Irishman John Adair. Adair agreed to back Goodnight in a new ranch and in 1877 the JA Ranch was born.

At its peak in 1883, the operation encompassed over a million acres and ran 100,000+ head of cattle. While the ranch provided very little in the way of neighbors (much less female neighbors), Molly was not an idle woman. She was the JA’s doctor, tailor, letter writer, teacher, and even spiritual adviser. She had a soft heart for animals as well and kept three chickens as pets.

Even when the money rolled in and life could have been easier, Molly never stopped looking for challenges or caring about others. She rode the high plains rescuing buffalo calves left behind by hunters. Goodnight indulged his wife and let her start her own herd for their preservation. She even crossed some of the buffalo with cattle and coined the phrase “cattalo.” A pretty savvy cattlewoman in her own right, Molly ran a herd separate from her husband’s under the Flying T brand. Somehow, amongst all this, she found time to run a real school in the bunkhouse for the ranch hands’ children.

In the late 1880’s, the couple moved to northeast Armstrong County to start a new ranch, but they discovered other interests as well. Both were active church members, generous philanthropists, and had quite the passion for educating children. In 1898 they established Goodnight College, a school for boys.

The Goodnights never had any children of their own. Perhaps that’s why Molly felt the need to adopt her community. She believed Texas had given her a beautiful life, it was, therefore, only right to give something back.

A true Texas Lady, she was.

No, Not a Happy Ending for this Lady in Defiance…or Was it?

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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Cynthia and her daughter Topsannah after their capture in 1861. Cynthia, believing her husband Nocona was dead, had cut her hair per Comanche mourning rituals.

Cynthia and her daughter Topsannah after their capture in 1861. Cynthia, believing her husband Nocona was dead, had cut her hair per Comanche mourning rituals.

I tend to stay away from stories of women that don’t have happy endings. But is it a disservice to ignore the gals who slogged on through life’s hardships, bent but not broken, till God called them home? Honestly, yes. So allow me to introduce you to Cynthia Ann Parker.

At the age nine or ten, Cynthia moved from Illinois with her family to Central Texas. A year or so later, in 1836, she and four others, including her brother John, were kidnapped by Comanches. In the next few years, her fellow captives returned to the White Man’s World, but Cynthia didn’t. Though she had an opportunity to leave with John sometime in the 1840’s, she refused. Cynthia Parker had gone Native and was committed to her Comanche family.

In 1846 federal troops were surprised to discover a blue-eyed white woman living with Comanches along the Canadian River. Naturally, being magnanimous public servants, they sought to “bargain” for Cynthia’s release. The tribal elders refused. Cynthia was again spotted by government officials in the late 1840’s. By this time, though, she had married Chief Peta Nocona and given him three children. She had no intention of going anywhere. Agreeing, Nocona warned the government they wouldn’t take his family without a fight. The government backed off.

Cynthia lived in peace with her family for years after that, but the battles between Comanches and Whites escalated. In 1860, Texas Rangers attacked a hunting party at Mule Creek. Imagine the Rangers surprise when they discovered that pale skin and piercing blue eyes. Taken back to the white man’s world, Cynthia was later recognized by her uncle, Col. Isaac Parker. He relocated her and her baby daughter to Birdville, with a promise that if her sons Quanah and Pecos were found, they would be brought to her.

Cynthia made more than one attempt to “escape” from civilized society, but failed. Eventually, she settled at her sister’s farm, in the vicinity of Palestine, TX. Her daughter Topsana (Prairie Flower) died during this new captivity in 1863 or ‘64. Miserable with this new life and uncomfortable with the national attention, Cynthia faded away and died in 1871. She was only 45 or so. In those last years, she never saw her boys.

Cynthia’s legacy, of course, is her oldest son. Quanah raged against the machine, becoming a great warrior and leader. But we all know how the Indian Wars ended. With the handwriting on the wall, he surrendered in 1875 and helped settle his people on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation, where the US Government appointed him chief. He embraced certain aspects of white culture, learned English, made smart investments, and hunted with President Roosevelt.

Cynthia had given her son the tools for surviving in a white world and Quanah never forget his mother. In 1910, he had her body moved from TX to Oklahoma. A year later, he joined her in the Post Oak Mission Cemetery.

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