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!
22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 1 Corinthians 9:22
Too often, the history of missionaries in America has been one of overriding a group’s identity to Christianize them. Capt. Richard Pratt said, referring to Native Americans in 1892, “Kill the Indian in him, save the man.” But I discovered a missionary who did it right and the Cheyenne loved her.
Marie Gerber Petter came to America from the Swiss Jura Mountains with her husband Rodolphe in 1890. The couple arrived with the express purpose of taking the Gospel to Native Americans. But first, they had to learn English and raise funds for their goal, which they did by visiting Mennonite churches in the mid-West.
In 1893, the couple moved to Cantonment, OK to live among the Cheyenne. Rodolphe and Marie were fluent in French, German, English, and Rodolphe could read Latin and Greek. Together, he and Marie began to learn Cheyenne. Their perseverance and passion for the language impressed the Cheyenne greatly. The Petter’s shared the Gospel but did not denigrate the Cheyenne religion in the process.
Instead, they tried to copy Paul’s example and be all things to all people.
When Marie realized the Cheyenne women had some amazing needlecraft and beadwork skills, she immediately set about creating sewing circles. A beautiful, nonconfrontational way to find common ground with the women in the tribe. They sewed together and spoke Cheyenne, the roles of teacher and student going back and forth. And Marie was an eager student. She was on fire to learn the language because she desperately wanted the Cheyenne to meet her Savior.
The Petters not only brought the Cheyenne the Gospel, but they also did the tribe a huge service by turning an oral language into written form. The couple produced a Cheyenne dictionary, a Cheyenne grammar book, two Cheyenne hymn books, a translation of John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress, the complete New Testament and a beginner’s guide for learning Cheyenne.
I found the following quote in the Chicago Community Mennonite archives that I thought summed up what this amazing couple accomplished for the Lord: “Lawrence Hart, Mennonite pastor and Cheyenne Chief has credited Petter with the preservation of the Cheyenne people. When everything else was taken away (buffalo, deer, fishing streams, native arts and horses) [the] Petter[s] helped sustain a Cheyenne identity by preserving the language. The Petters, wrote Chief Hart, are now viewed as Saints among the Cheyenne.”
Now, that’s how you spread the Gospel.
Marie and her husband served among the tribe for over twenty years, always respecting the culture and fighting assimilation, yet modeling the love of Jesus Christ in a way that is still winning Cheyenne souls to this day.
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!
Feminism. Do you ever wonder how in the world America was built without those early pioneer women being told (incessantly) they were strong, brave, and didn’t need a man around? Golly, it’s a wonder we were able to help build a country.
In the last few days, I’ve heard a couple of Hollywood starlets berating Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty for being bad role models. Keira Knightley said her favorite Disney movie The Little Mermaid is not allowed entertainment for her 3-year-old. “I mean, the songs are great, but do not give your voice up for a man,” she told Ellen DeGeneres.
I think about the way our culture is working so hard to feminize men and make women masculine and it really ticks me off. Generally speaking, we’re smaller, daintier, physically weaker, more emotional–we’re VERY different from men. And that is our strength. Don’t denigrate it.
Meet a couple of my favorite heroines:
Sybil Ludington, raised in a genteel home with the usual simple expectations of her fairer sex, rode 40 miles in one night to warn the American militia the British were coming.
Another Revolutionary War heroine, Margaret Corbin followed her husband into battle, then took over his cannon when he was killed. Horribly wounded, she fired at the British until she passed out, but hers was the last cannon going.
Or let’s consider Sacagawea who crossed a continent, climbing mountains, shooting rapids, and trekking across remote country for thousands of miles, all while carrying a baby on her back.
And then there’s Susan McSween who, after the broad-daylight murder of her husband, fearlessly stood up to the lawless element in Lincoln, New Mexico and eventually became the state’s largest, most powerful rancher.
And I bet every one of these women had heard some version of Cinderella. In fact, unlike our culture today, women of the past were not expected to be anything but a princess! They weren’t shielded from their “limitations.” Yet, when it came down to brass tacks, when their feet hit the fire, when it all went sideways, our female ancestors stood up, shouldered the burden, and made a difference. Nobody had to tell them they were as smart, as strong, as courageous as a man. They certainly weren’t told they were better than a man, or that all men are bad. They weren’t insecure or threatened by men. They accepted the way things were and rose above it without whining, rioting, or turning their daughters into little self-centered, angry man-hating robots.
I think it was Ginger Rogers who said she could do everything Fred could do, only she did it backward and in high heels. But she liked her high heels and pretty, flowing gowns.
I like being a princess–which, frankly, is just code for being A Lady in Defiance of Expectations.
What about you? Are you proud to be a princess or am I waaaaay off base? Do you have a favorite Disney princess?
You know, I write Christian Western Romance not only because the locations and century speak to me, but I LOVE the values espoused in CLASSIC Westerns. Men were men–strong, honest, hard-working, gentlemanly, and compassionate. I use that last word because I’m thinking of a couple of classics like Cheyenne Autumn and Broken Arrow. In these two films, the heroes see Native Americans as strong, proud, but, sadly, defeated. Regardless, they treat them with respect.
The US government and, arguably, the tribal governments, have done the American Indian no favors. By relegating reservations to remote areas, supplying the people with minimal handouts and then saddling them with an astonishing level of governmental mismanagement, these supposed “sovereign nations” have become Third-World nations within our own borders. (See below for just a few statistics…)
And then along comes Elizabeth Warren wrapping her white, office-seeking, ambition-clawing hands around the label Cherokee. Flaunts it. Waves it like a flag. Starting in 1986, she claimed her “minority status” and used it to make Harvard look like it was hiring women of color. She has also used the label to garner attention, support, and dollars from democratic voters.
But what has this Champion of the Cherokee done since being elected to the senate in 2013? NOTHING until 2018 when she co-sponsored two bills directly related to Native Americans. Gee, thanks, sister.
But she’s given lots of speeches to them.
My point is, Native Americans have been used enough in this country to further the blind ambitions of greedy politicians. And they won’t be used anymore, judging by the response yesterday from the Cherokee tribe to Warren’s claims. I think they’d like to invite her to play a game of Indian Stick Ball rather than claim her.
I’m sure she’d join in. Righter after she finishes a bowl of that traditional Cherokee dish, Pow Wow Chow.
Here are some disheartening facts: Native Americans have the lowest employment rate of any minority; on average, less than 50% of Native students graduate high school; more than 60% of the roads on the reservations are dirt or gravel; 1 in 10 Native American homes lack reliable or clean drinking water; only about 10% of Native homes have internet; the suicide rate for Native teens is 2.5 times the national average! I could go on and on.