Blog Archives

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.

~~~~~~~~~

58698552_470227153685065_4702526745696272384_n

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!

The First Female Sheriff in the USA was in Texas and from Texas … Of Course

Emma

Emma

 

Please check out my author page on Amazon to find more strong women of the West!


Emma Daugherty was born in Dallas, TX in 1871. No one would have guessed this delightful, petite child with the quick wit would become the nation’s first female sheriff.

And why does it not surprise me the nations’s first female sheriff was a sheriff in Texas?

Emma started her professional career quietly enough as a school teacher. In the meantime, John Riley Bannister, born in 1854, enlisted as a Texas Ranger in the 1880’s. He assisted in the delivery and/or capture of famous outlaws John Wesley Hardin and Sam Bass. After a few years, he resigned and worked variously as a rail road detective, cattle inspector, and Treasury agent. His first wife died in 1892, leaving the lawman with five young children to raise.

To his credit, he didn’t run out and marry the first gal he could. Two years later, John married Emma and took her away from her classroom duties. Over the next ten years, the Banisters would try their hands at various professions, including farming, but law enforcement was the vocation her husband knew best. He made time for his young wife, though, and together they added four children to the five already in tow. Emma loved writing and somehow found time to work as a correspondent for the San Angelo Standard Times.

John was elected Sheriff of Coleman County, TX in 1914. The family, all eleven of them, moved to an apartment on the first floor of the jail. Along with her work as wife and mother and reporter, Emma assisted her husband as his office deputy. I.e., she did all the paperwork. They must have worked well together as John was elected to a second term.

In 1918, though, he suffered a stroke and died, only a week after winning a primary election for sheriff for a possible third term. The election results, however, were close, requiring a runoff among the three candidates. The county officials asked Emma if she would serve out the remaining months of her husband’s term while the campaigning continued and she agreed. Without any real fanfare, she became the first female sheriff in the United States. An intrepid reporter from the New York World picked up on the story and for fifteen minutes, Emma was famous.

She did not, however, see herself as such. Grieving the loss of a husband she loved, Emma stepped down at the end of her husband’s term and returned to the farm. In her three months as sheriff, she never carried a gun. A short, slightly pudgy woman, she figured if a man was intent on causing trouble, he’d just take it away from her anyway.

Emma passed away at the ripe old age of 84.

 

Copyright 2015 Heather Blanton

Follow me on https://www.facebook.com/heatherfreyblanton and
https://twitter.com/heatherfblanton

A Former Slave, She Married a White Man and Left a Legacy of Peace in the Wild West

Mattie and John

Mattie and John

 

In light of all the racial tension boiling in Ferguson, I thought it would be uplifting to remind us that, even in the Wild West, peace among different races has not always been elusive. Mattie Bost Bell Castner is a wonderful example.

Born a slave in Newton, NC in 1848, she and her family moved to St. Louis after the Emancipation Proclamation for a fresh start. Mattie worked as a nanny, domestic servant, and hotel maid. Eager to expand her horizons, though, she moved to Fort Benton, MT and opened a laundry. Her business did quite well and the former slave could have called herself a successful, independent businesswoman. Sharp, wise, well-spoken, and pretty to boot, Mattie caught the eye of John Castner. Castner, too, was a hard-working entrepreneur who ran his own freight business. He had scouted much of the territory and had a particular fascination with Belt Creek. Dreaming of bigger pay offs than the freight company, he had filed several mining claims along the creek’s ford, which is near present day Great Falls.

Recognizing the fact that life in Montana is not for the faint of heart, Castner was taken with Mattie’s grit and determination to succeed in such a tough environment. Defying convention, the white man took as his wife the lovely, dark, former slave. The two were stronger together than they could have ever been apart. They dug in and went to work, building what would become the town of Belt. Castner pursued his interests in freighting and coal mining, and opened a mercantile. Matty opened the Castner Hotel, in the center of the booming little mining town. A place known for good food, exquisite service, and plenty of smiles.

Perhaps because of her background, this former slave was renowned territory-wide for her generosity and compassion. She was always ready to help out new families in town with advice, connections, and donations of supplies and cash. She became known as “the mother of Belt.” In the meantime, her husband served as the town’s mayor.

The mixed race couple had a good thing going and blessed others as much as they could, building a tight community, and living a life together that was envied by most.

When Mattie died in 1920, she left her fortune of $25,000 to charity.

A life begun in slavery could have made this woman dark and twisted. Instead, Mattie became a true Lady in Defiance. She lived in defiance of bitterness, hatred, and racism to leave behind a legacy of peace, love, and unity. Well done, Mattie. Well done.

 

copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

Like a Phoenix, Queen of the Utes Rose from the Ashes … Literally

John had Abigail. Romeo had Juliet. Chief Ouray had Chipeta.

Chief Ouray and Chipeta

Chief Ouray and Chipeta

Unless you live in Colorado or are a student of history, you’ve probably never heard of her. She was the second wife of the Ute chief, but she came to be so much more.

Dubbed “Queen of the Utes” by a reporter contemptuous of Indians, a poet turned the slam into an homage. And well-deserved it was.

When Chipeta was only an infant, a band of renegades attacked her Kiowa village. She was the sole survivor. Friendly Utes found her crawling through the smoking remains and adopted her. Many years later, when Chief Ouray’s first wife died, Chipeta became the caretaker for his son. Ouray was impressed with the girl’s keen mind, compassion, and poise. Eventually the two married and were inseparable from then on.

Chipeta traveled everywhere with Ouray, which was highly unusual for Ute culture. But he valued her counsel. She was a true confidante and friend, and one of his biggest supporters as he tried to navigate the treacherous road of negotiations with the US government.

Ouray’s overriding goal was peace with the whites. Just like in all the movies, there were hot-headed braves and opportunistic tribal leaders who hated him for “selling out”. There were some Ute bands that wouldn’t speak with him, but they welcomed his wife. Where Ouray could not go, the soft-spoken, perceptive Chipeta would hold councils and share the information with her husband as he sought to save his people, albeit on smaller and smaller pieces of land.

In 1879, an uprising at the White River Res resulted in the deaths of 11 white men, including the Indian agent, Nathan Meeker. Meeker’s wife and daughter and several others were taken captive at the massacre, enraging the government. Tradition says Chipeta housed and cared for the girls, and then, along with Ouray, negotiated their release.

This event, coupled with another deadly skirmish between Utes and soldiers, resulted in the Ute Removal Act. The entire tribe was relocated to scrub and sand in Utah. Ouray died there in 1880.

Chipeta met tribal leaders and government officials alike. They all honored and respected her. She traveled to Washington, D.C. with Ouray to negotiate a peace treaty with the government. She dined with Kit Carson and his family, and rode in a train with President Taft. Yet, for most of her life she lived confined to a government reservation, subsisting on poverty-level subsidies. Still, she always spoke up for her people, never let her conditions break her, and stubbornly believed in peace.

Chipeta died in Utah in 1924. Upon her death, Colorado petitioned to have her and Chief Ouray exhumed and reinterred in Montrose. Perhaps now the Queen of the Utes finally has her peace.

Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
Don’t miss my new book, Hearts in Defiance, coming out in September 2014!
I’d love for you to join me on
https://www.facebook.com/heatherfreyblanton 
and https://twitter.com/heatherfblanton

Virginia Taught Her to Smile; Texas Taught Her to Fight

The past and the present

The past and the present

I love the stories of women who, on the verge of losing everything, look defeat squarely in the eye and knock the snot out of it.

When Sarah Cockrell’s husband Alexander died in 1858, he left her with three small children and a few struggling businesses. Oh, and a mountain of debt.

At the time of his death, Alexander owned a sawmill, gristmill, office building, and a ferry business in Dallas. Recognizing Sarah’s business acumen, and since he couldn’t read or write, he let her handle his books, as well as his correspondence. Upon Alexander’s passing, Sarah did not wring her hands and think about running back to Virginia. She jumped in, wrestled his debt to the ground and emerged with a sound company.

Sarah is remembered in Texas, though, for the construction of an iron suspension bridge across the Trinity River. The Texas state legislature  OKed her idea for the venture in 1860, but it took her 12 years and the end of the Civil War to bring it about. In 1872, the bridge opened up Dallas to several major roads and ushered in a pretty energetic economic boom. Ironically, while her bridge company did well and the city blossomed, Sarah never sat on the board of the Dallas Bridge Company. It wasn’t customary. She owned the majority of stock and could have sat at the head of the table, but methinks a few men on the board didn’t like the competition.

And they had reason to fear this little lady. She was just getting rolling. The bridge deal was good to Sarah and by the 1880’s she was dabbling in real estate, becoming a regular Donald Trump.  In 1889 she handled fifty-three separate land deals and in both 1890 and 1891 more than twenty.1 By 1892, the belle from Virginia owned a quarter of downtown Dallas.

There are plaques and charities and buildings named for Sarah. Who remembers the men on the board of the Dallas Bridge Company, hmmm?

1 Texas State Historical Association

Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

I’d love for you to join me on https://www.facebook.com/heatherfreyblanton and
https://twitter.com/heatherfblanton

 

 

 

Molly Goodnight — Another Rose in Texas

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

Follow me on https://www.facebook.com/heatherfreyblanton and
https://twitter.com/heatherfblanton

 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

Follow me on https://www.facebook.com/heatherfreyblanton and
https://twitter.com/heatherfblanton

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.

%d bloggers like this: