Blog Archives

Love is Waiting for You. Literally.

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?

Ethel Waxham 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?

John G. Love 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.

Babies Have Rights, Too

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.

tran

Tran

glick

Glick

krueger

Krueger

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?

You?

Can I get an amen?

https://buffalonews.com/2019/01/22/long-stalled-abortion-bill-passes-new-york-legislature/

https://thefederalist.com/2019/01/30/virginia-democrats-propose-bill-allowing-abortions-birth/

 

 

 

The Woman Who Struck Fear into the Hearts of…Rattlesnakes

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?

Photo credit: 1987.32.0013A, City of Greeley Museums, Permanent Collection. Katherine Slaughterback with two strings of rattlesnakes, 1925. Photographer unknown.

A Few of My Favorite Things About Christmas

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!

nannieTHE 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.

santadance

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’

windriverstudios

 

courtesy Wind River Studios

 

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!

sleigh_ride

Look Out! I’m Going all Politically Incorrect Again…

As a nation, not only have we become deeply divided, but we’re divided over stupid things. Maybe–here’s a crazy thought–if we were a little less sensitive we’d all get along a little better. Instead of scouring the universe for something that hurts our little feelings, maybe we could be more concerned with things that matter.

So, here’s the reason for my rant. I recently read an article (Writing with Color Description Guide Part One) that said writers shouldn’t use words like chocolate, coffee, cinnamon, cocoa, etc. to describe a Person of Color. Such descriptors are, according to this article’s author, fetishizing, dehumanizing, and my favorite (and I quote): these words are about aggression and appropriation and have links to colonialism.

coffeeYou can’t, according to the writer, use coffee, for example, to describe someone’s skin color because it refers to slavery. You’re microaggressively trying to show your European dominance. I have to quote the writer again: “Cocoa. Coffee. They drove the slave trade. They still drive the slave trade.” (Underline is hers not mine.) In short, you are obviously a racist if you use the word coffee to describe an African American’s skin tone. Give me a break.

BUT, we can use words like peachy and milky to describe whites–because, according to the article’s author, whites aren’t people of color. Furthermore, she says it’s okay to say Olive-toned (Olives have no historical connection to slavery?). She also says it’s okay to use other foodie descriptors like wheat, soybean…wait, what? Soybean? 

Blink. Blink.

I’m pretty sure a stranger would be offended if I described her skin as a warm soybean color. Now THAT is dehumanizing.

And just who does this writer suggest run the Politically Correct Botanical Comparison Police anyway? Her? Frankly, with stupid suggestions like “soybean,” someone needs to take her badge away.

 I LOVE coffee. I am pretty sure that’s not because I’m a subconscious racist. Coffee smells like heaven. The texture is gritty and firm. The taste is warm, savory, and comforting. I could sleep on a bed of steamy milk. Anyone who walks into a Starbuck’s and inhales that heady aroma knows exactly what I’m talking about. 

My point is rather than worrying about microaggressions or poor cliches in literature, people that live to be offended should try to be more constructive. That is if they truly want to make this a better world.

Instead of complaining about being called coffee, go have a cup with someone who has a different view of life from yours. Instead of acting like your elders’ march for civil rights didn’t break any barriers, let’s march together to end sex slave trafficking. Instead of whining about the way illegal immigrants are treated, study America’s history and look at what blessings members of the “melting pot” have added to the world. 

I have a suspicion, though, the writer of “Writing with Color” would rather just go read Mark Twain and strikethrough all the offensive words. Maybe she’ll feel better but I doubt it.

How about you? Do you feel victimized by bad color metaphors or do you even give a rip as long as you can see the scene and the character?

——–

(To be fair, the author in Part 2 she does offer some nice substitutes, but she clearly shies away from metaphors and similes, preferring to just use colors to describe characters).

Let My Book Speak to You…

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!

Who Was the First Woman to Write a Western Romance?

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.

foote 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.” Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 10.50.42 AM

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!

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 10.50.57 AM

Blanton’s Defiance Novels Optioned for A Limited TV Series

How did all this come about? It’s one crazy God-story!

mattagain

Actor Matt Williams

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.

micah

Micah Lyons–the man in the middle after directing a fight scene.

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

JD and her sons

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!

It Didn’t Have to End That Way. So Here is the ALTERNATE Ending…

You either just LOVED it or downright DESPISED it.

Y’all are not divided on your opinions of my book A Promise in Defiance. If you are in the camp of “the ending was too tragic and it left me sad,” then you should read Daughter of Defiance, the spin-off story of one of the vilest, and yet, I think, most heart-wrenching characters I’ve ever written: Delilah Goodnight, the notorious madam of Defiance. Yes, she was a horrible person who caused the death of some good people. mock5

But her story was far from over. And Daughter of Defiance had TWO endings!

If you haven’t read A Promise in Defiance or Daughter of Defiance, you might want to before you check out this ALTERNATE ending. THIS is the way I originally envisioned Daughter of Defiance winding up, but my editor said, among other criticisms, that I didn’t leave enough mystery for the next book. Sooooo, read or not. It’s up to you, but if you do, WARNING: SPOILER ALERT. DOD5

~~~~~DAUGHTER OF DEFIANCE ALTERNATE ENDING~~~~~

UNEDITED

Skirt flapping around her knees, whipping out behind her, Victoria galloped out of town, uncaring of the curious stares. Panic clawed at her throat. She couldn’t think of anything the girl at the hotel or Charlie or even Cooley had said that was a specific clue. Oh, God, lead me, please, she prayed. Don’t let anyone else die because of me.

She raced toward the end of town, past Boot Hill, out on to the vast, open prairie. A gray, angry sky overhead reflected her torment. Frustrated, confused, she slowed her horse from a gallop to a canter to a trot…finally to a standstill.

The wind whistled. Dry, amber grass danced and swayed around her. A few cottonwoods stood silently nearby, their shadows growing long in the late afternoon sun. She thought back to her early days here when innocence and youth fed her hopes and dreams. Places she and Logan had gone to…to be alone.

The memory of a favorite place surfaced.

Benton’s Gulch.

Did the sod shanty still stand down by Crier’s Sink Hole? It was a fine hiding place. The moment she thought of it, she knew she had to go see it.

This was foolish, going in without any help, or even a gun. But she had to try. At least scout out the situation then return to town to find Earp or Toby or someone.

She turned the horse west and in only a matter of minutes reached the bottom of a long, low hill. She dismounted and tied the horse’s reins to the remains of an old wrought iron fence surrounding a grave. A tumbleweed blew into his rear legs and he nearly spooked free. Shushing him, Victoria tied him again, praying he didn’t jerk free from the decrepit thing. Satisfied he’d stay, she crept toward the crest of the hill.

The Kansas prairie, much like an ocean, hid secrets between these swells. Near the top of the rise, she laid down on her stomach and peered through the grass. Below figures moved about, some hovering over a fire, a few sitting back away from it. Wind rippled the water that filled the deep sinkhole. A man in dark clothes stood in the doorway of the dilapidated and collapsing sod house. A rush of sweet memories took Victoria back to seventeen, riding out here with Logan, kissing in that doorway beneath a fat harvest moon…swearing their eternal love.

Pain twisted in her heart. They both had lost so much. So much. She cleared her throat and tried to focus. Eleanor and GW sat by the fire. That was Charlie in the doorway. The two men who had accosted her at the newspaper—Oscar and Lawerence—were sitting on their bedrolls, watching their hostages.

From this distance, the win scattered their voices to the prairie. She’d have to get closer. Scanning the hillside below, she saw a rock outcropping—not big—barely larger than a horse, but it would do. She would wait till dark, slink down to it, and try to negotiate with them from there. If things fell apart, she had enough of a lead to get back to her horse and go for help. She scanned the hill behind her. At least, she was fairly sure she could make it.

It made more sense to go for help now. Victoria glanced at the darkening sky. Night fell quickly this late in the fall. How much time did she have to waste hunting Earp? None. In another hour she could slither her way down to the rock and be close enough to hear what’s going on. Then she could decide.

 

#

 

By nightfall, Victoria was lamenting her thin coat and wishing she’d grabbed her heavy wool frock. Flipping up the collar on the canvas jacket, she quietly slipped through the dry grass toward the rock outcropping. Only a few feet lower, yet the wind died here and she could hear the snapping fire, neighing horses, and Charlie’s voice.

“She’ll be along. Anytime now I suspect.”

“What makes you so sure she’ll find us?” Lawrence said.

Victoria crawled carefully down to the rock, aware sound was carrying easier now.

“The kids have known about this place since I was a boy,” Charlie said. “She probably came here. It’s where you go when you want to hide.”

“I say we go find her.” Oscar tilted his head back, taking a swig from a bottle. “You stay here, Charlie, and watch those two.”

Lawrence climbed to his feet, swaying a little as he did. “I like that idea. She’s probably—” a growling burp escaped him—“alone, moving around, trying to find them.”

“She won’t come for us,” Eleanor said, sounding anxious. “At least not alone. She’ll find Earp.”

“Or Toby,” GW added.

“Earp’s busy,” Charlie said. “He’s on a wild goose chase over toward Cimarron.”

Lawrence tilted his head. “That was a good idea. Why’d you do that? I thought you didn’t want no part in hunting Delilah.”

Charlie straightened, stepped outside the doorway. “I guess it’s time to wrap all this up. Besides, it’s getting cold.” Without any warning, he drew his revolver and shot Lawrence in the head and before the man hit the ground, Charlie dropped Oscar. The fire from his barrel illuminated GW and Eleanor surging to their feet as Victoria screamed.

The echo of the shots and her shrill cry faded together, but all eyes turned up the hill to her. Misery writhed in Victoria’s chest. She pushed herself out from behind the rock. “Stop it!” Tears choked her voice. “For God’s sake, just stop it.” More death on account of me. Oh, God, am I cursed? Please stop all this. “Why did you do that?”

“Come down here and we’ll talk about it, Victoria.”

But Charlie said her name like it was a huge joke. Bitterness, rage, grief, strangled her. “So, this is about me. You lose someone in Defiance?”

“You could say that.”

“Run, Victoria,” Eleanor screamed, stepping forward. “Run.”

“Shut up, old woman,” Charlie cocked his revolver. “Or I’ll shoot you, too.”

“You do, and I’ll kill you,” GW said quietly, ominously.

Charlie snorted. “You saw how fast I killed Lawrence and Oscar.”

“I’m closer.”

Victoria’s feet were rooted to the ground. GW’s comment seemed to rattle Charlie and he took a step back. “Get down here, Victoria. I’ll let these two walk away if you do. You leave for the sheriff and I’ll kill ’em both.”

Her knees buckled and she clutched the rock. She would trade herself, gladly. She deserved to be murdered, but how could she be sure he’d let GW and Eleanor go? Eleanor needed to live. She’d already been through so much.

“Victoriaaaa,” Charlie sang mockingly.

“Don’t listen to him,” GW yelled. “Get out of here. Find Earp.” He cast a quick glance at Charlie. “He’ll handle this miscreant.”

Victoria angrily brushed tears from her cheeks. “Tell me why you’re doing this? Why did you kill those two?”

“I don’t need ’em anymore.”

Victoria’s mind raced. Should she run? No, she knew how this had to play out. “Who are you?” she asked, miserable and heartsick. But, oddly, not afraid.

“I’m Charlie Smith. I’m one of the boys Logan used to run with. Long time ago. My brother took a bullet for him in Nebraska four years ago. A stagecoach robbery that went wrong ’cause Logan was drunker than a rat in a whiskey barrel.” The man cursed under his breath. “He disappeared after that. Thought I’d never catch up to him, then I got wind he was masquerading as a preacher,” he spat the word, “in Defiance. I showed up right after your two-bit drunk went and killed him. Or that’s the way the story’s told. But he aint’ dead. You know it. And I know it.”

“What?” Victoria couldn’t believe her ears, though the man sounded serious. “All this because you think Logan’s still a—?”

“Alive? I know he’s still alive.”

“Mister, you’re out of your mind.” Victoria took two steps toward them. “He died in my arms, in the middle of the street.” Her voice rose with hysteria. “He’s dead and he’s never coming back.”

Charlie shook his head. “You’re good but you ain’t convincing. I’ve heard the stories. He’s been working his way here. To you.”

“What are you talking about?” Could this get any more insane or absurdly cruel? “He’s dead,” she whispered barely loud enough for them all to hear. “He’s dead and I’d give any—” She broke off. “Stories? What stories?”

“I lucked out with Lawrence and Oscar there. They could track. They were tracking you. I figured if I found you, I’d eventually find Logan. Sure enough, about the time I realized you were here somewhere in Dodge, I saw the pattern. The stories added up.”

Victoria couldn’t stop her mind from spinning. She felt faint. “What stories?” she asked again. “What pattern? What are you talking about?”

Charlie paused, tilted his head. “A man in black popped up on the trail a few weeks back. Looking for a pretty girl maybe named Victoria. Maybe coming from Defiance. Quiet fella, kept his hat pulled down real low. Nobody got a look at him. One fella in Cheyenne Wells didn’t take to the questioning and our mystery man jerked his Colt on him.  Folks said he was so fast, he made lightning look like molasses.”

Victoria felt her heart slow to a crawl. Her head swam. Logan? Alive? She’d sat beside him on his deathbed, held his his cold fingers in hers. It wasn’t possible…

Was it? God? Is Logan alive?

“You think…” Victoria could hardly speak. A maelstrom of emotions stormed in her soul. “You think this man in black is coming for me?”

“I knew once I had you, I’d get Logan. He’s coming for you like a moth to a flame.”

Victoria literally couldn’t fathom this insanity. Oh, hope sparked in her breast, but she knew what she’d seen. She couldn’t let hope catch fire. It would make her go crazy. “I’ll trade for Eleanor and GW, but you’re too late to get vengeance on Logan. Too late,” her voice faded.

“Get down here and we’ll talk or,” he cocked the pistol, “I start cutting baggage loose.”

“No, Victoria,” Eleanor cried.

“Get the marshal,” GW ordered.

No. Victoria couldn’t stand the thought of coming back to their bodies. Charlie was going to kill them if she didn’t play this his way. Probably would anyway. Oh, God, please, please keep them safe. But I should pay for my crimes.

She raised her hands into the air. “I’m coming down.” Everything in her knew Charlie was going to try to kill GW and Eleanor. He didn’t need them. In his sick, twisted mind he believed Victoria was the magnet for Logan. If only that could be true.

Regardless, she believed they all had one chance.

Victoria stumbled down through the tangle of buffalo grass to level ground. Charlie still held the gun on GW and Eleanor. Their only chance lay in a distraction. She prayed they would act when the opportunity arose.

Oh, God, I could get us all killed. Her steps faltered but something kept her feet moving.  She came within twenty feet of Charlie and surveyed Eleanor’s and GW’s conditions. “Momma, are you all right?”

Her mother nodded and made a choked noise

“GW?”

“You shoulda run. Somebody has to survive this.”

“Yes.” A peace flooded over Victoria. She knew what she had to do and every muscle in her body readied for the charge. “Someone will.” She would take the bullet and Eleanor and GW would overpower Charlie.

It would be all right. Accounts would be settled. And for the first time in her life, the ugly face of death didn’t frighten her.

The message to move was shooting from her brain to her legs when a shot boomed over their heads from the darkness. Charlie stepped back, waved his gun around, but brought it back quickly to his hostages. Hope surged in Victoria. Earp? Was Earp out there in the grass and shadows?

“Who’s out there?” Charlie yelled, his eyes wildly searching the darkness. “I got hostages. I’ll drop ’em. Back off!”

The silence was deafening as it stretched out. After a moment, a quiet, velvety voice spoke. “No one dies here tonight.”

Victoria gasped. Her heart hammered so hard and fast she thought it might explode in her chest. Desperately, she searched the darkness. She must have misheard. Hope had filled her ears with what—who—she wanted to hear. But she couldn’t help herself. She had to ask. “Logan?”

She held her breath, waiting for an impossible answer.

“I’m here, Victoria.”

Joy ripped a sob from her. Overwhelmed, she collapsed to her knees, weeping with wonder and elation. “Alive. Oh, God, alive…”

Charlie’s eyes widened. “You didn’t—you really didn’t know?”

“Drop the gun,” Logan ordered.

Charlie debated. His gaze bounced back-and-forth between Victoria and his other two prisoners.

“Pull that trigger,” Logan said, “and you’ll be just as dead as your friends there.”

Charlie heaved a deep sigh. “Let me go, Logan. I’ll leave off. No more trackin’ ya.”

A hard thud emanated from the back of Charlie’s head and he abruptly slithered to the ground—revealing a tall, solidly-built man standing behind him, holding a gun. Firelight flickered in his ash blond hair and danced across a strong jaw. His hat threw the rest of his face into shadow but his stance, his presence was hauntingly, undeniably familiar.

Logan.

Victoria’s whole body jolted as if she’d been struck by a lightning bolt.  “Logan?” She could barely speak for the awe streaking through her soul. Forgetting to breathe, drowning in shock and joy, she launched to her feet and leaped into his arms, nearly knocking him over.

“Logan, Logan, Logan, I saw you die. I buried you.”

“Shhh.” He said, gently stroking her head and holstering his weapon. “There’s time for that later. I’m here now. I came for you.” His words pulled another sob from her and she wept on his chest. “Why don’t you get that gun there,” he said, apparently to GW. “Eleanor. It’s been a long time.”

“Yes.” Her voice was husky with emotion. “But you sure picked the right time to come back.”

~

At the end of the meal, Toby set his napkin on his empty plate and nodded across the table at GW. “I reckon I’ll go get that item you wanted me to, um get.” He should have prepared this better.

GW wiped gravy from his mustache. “I think now is appropriate.”

Ignoring the perplexed expressions from the others at the table, Toby hustled on outside and jogged over to the barn. Delilah waited quietly in her stall. She grumbled softly when he opened the gate and stepped inside with her.

“Let’s saddle you up, girl, and show ’em the new you.”

As he saddled her, he tried not to think about Victoria and Logan, but there was nothing else he could think about. He regretted not having had a chance with her, yet he understood things were as they should be. Victoria had never been meant for Toby. Seemed to him she wasn’t meant for anybody but Logan. When a man comes back from the dead to find a woman—well, there’s no topping that.

Understanding and acceptance didn’t make the situation any easier to bear, though.

“Ah, cowboy up,” he scolded, snugging the cinch. “I just want her to be happy, Lord.” Admitting it aloud seemed to lessen the pain. God was good. Toby would be all right.

He swung up into the saddle and trotted a trusting, surrendered Delilah over to the house. He pulled up in front and waited for GW to usher his guests outside. Momentarily, the door clicked and they all filed out on to the porch. Victoria’s face lit up when she realized the identity of the horse.

“You did it.” She clasped her hands over her chest and leaned into Logan. “He did it. He said he could make her a good horse.”

Toby took a deep breath, patted Delilah on the neck and dismounted. “Yeah, she’s a fine horse.” He pulled the reins over Delilah’s head and held them out. “And she’s yours.”

GW stepped up and dropped a hand on Victoria’s shoulder. “I want you to have her.”

Her chin quivering, Victoria shuffled down the steps and took the reins, but she lingered a moment on Toby. “Thank you.”

He shoved his hands into his pockets and shrugged. “You two go together. Some things you have to let happen.” A puzzled dip formed in her brow, but Toby backed up a step to end the questioning. “Turns out she has a tender mouth. Guide her gently.”

A little smile lifted Victoria’s lips. “I will.”

Exploring Deadwood–Day 2

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.

2018-06-06 20.24.49

Deadwood at Sunrise.

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. 2018-06-07 00.36.30 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.

2018-06-07 06.08.11

The view from one of those pretty little Victorian homes. In the distance is our hotel, the Deadwood Mountain Grand.

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. Killed_by_Indians

 

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. IMG_0668 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!

%d bloggers like this: