I got tickled the other day reading a book about pioneer women in South Dakota. Have you ever seen those videos of young tourists doing amazingly stupid things like taking selfies too close to the roaring waves or attempting to feed a buffalo at Yellowstone? Sometimes things go very wrong.
For a pioneer girl, Sadie wasn’t much smarter than some of our modern kiddoes. Back around 1880, she went for a walk on a hot summer day on her farm to pass some time and admire God’s handiwork. Not long into her stroll, she noticed a nice, plump cluster of grapes hanging over the stream. Simply too tempted to be smart, Sadie started making her way across the swift-moving water by stepping–sometimes streeeetching–from one large rock to the next.
Well, she got a little too intent on watching the current and had a spell of vertigo. Yep, fell headfirst into the water. Years later, she said she could still remember what the bottom of that stream looked like. However, before she even had a chance to panic, she found herself rising to the surface and then being pulled by the collar to the shore.
A tall, erect, young Indian boy wrangled her out of the water, snatched her to her feet, then grabbed her shoulders and proceeded to shake her violently. Before she could react to this new danger, the brave disappeared, slipping away into the shadowy forest.
She said for the rest of her life she often wondered what the purpose was of the shaking.
This comment has me thinking maybe Sadie was a bit of a dull bulb. Which could explain how she nearly drowned in the first place.
Well, here’s my best guess, hon, on what the brave who saved your life may have been thinking as he was rattling your brains: “Dumb, dumb, dumb girl. You could have drowned. For what? A handful of grapes? What were you thinking? Go back to your farm and plant something.”
I learned something today in my research into those feisty pioneer women that I just had to share. I knew that the Daniel Day-Lewis movie Last of the Mohicans was based on James Fenimore Cooper’s novel of the same name. What I didn’t know was that the story of white girls kidnapped by Indians was based on the actual event experienced by Jemima Boone, who was rescued by her legendary father, Daniel.
The following short article is from a longer History.com article entitled 7 of the Gutsiest Women on the American Frontier. I’ve blogged about nearly all the women on the list but somehow missed Jemima. You should read the whole thing, it’s quite entertaining, but here’s my favorite part:
Rebecca Boone wasn’t the only formidable female in Daniel Boone’s family. His daughter Jemima earned her own spot in the history books on July 14, 1776. That’s when a Cherokee-Shawnee raiding group abducted Jemima, aged 14, along with two other girls while they floated in a canoe near their Kentucky settlement. Demonstrating their own knowledge of frontier ways, the quick-witted teens left trail markers as their captors took them away—bending branches, breaking off twigs and leaving behind leaves and berries.
Their rescue team, led by Daniel Boone himself, took just two days to follow the trail and retrieve the girls. The rescuers included Flanders Callaway, Samuel Henderson and Captain John Holder, each of whom later married one of the kidnapped girls. This event became such an integral part of frontier lore, author James Fenimore Cooper included it in his classic novel The Last of the Mohicans.
Ah, those ladies in defiance. How their legends live on.
I stumbled across a lady in defiance today who left me in awe of her grit and courage. This gal stamped her name on history in one of the most unique yet most daring, most defiant ways ever. Talk about thinking out of the box for a paycheck.
Mary Myers flew balloons. Often, alone. In the 1880s.
Now that’s courage, sister.
Mary was born in Boston in 1849 but married Carl Myers in 1871. He was a sort of jack-of-all-trades—because he was a late bloomer. After several false starts, Carl came into his own when he began pursuing aeronautical engineering. Eventually, by the time he was in his 40’s, he was designing balloons and securing patents on fabric that would hold hydrogen. The couple opened a factory (a large home they called the Balloon Factory) to sell “passenger” balloons. Yes, balloons that would carry more than one person with a death wish.
The world’s a nicer place in my beautiful balloon
It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon
We can sing a song and sail along the silver sky
For we can fly, we can fly
At first the Myers hired test pilots to fly their new designs, but Carl wanted to get into the air himself and of course, Mary was right there with him. However, she thought her simple name of Mary was too bland, too common to reflect well on her new, exciting career. She chose a stage name: Carlotta Myers. A derivative of Carl. Clever.
They flew their balloons at expositions that drew massive crowds. I mean in the tens of thousands. Mary made her first solo flight in 1886 and flew right at 200 flights total.
Most excursions went well. There were a couple of noticeable exceptions. Once her balloon ran into a severe thunderstorm. Water poured into her gondola at a breakneck pace and literally started sinking her balloon. She tossed everything she could over the side but still wound up crashing into a tree and sitting like a pigeon eighty feet in the air, tangled in an oak. Hunters were able to rescue her about an hour later.
Perhaps more harrowing, however, was the time in 1886 when her balloon, handled too roughly by a massive crowd of spectators, came apart in mid-air! Amazingly she managed to gather the fraying fabric and fashion a parachute. Mary glided about 12 miles using this rig, nice and easy to roughly her expected landing area.
I don’t know what I find more amazing about this woman: her unwavering desire to fly balloons or her ability to pursue said calling in a time when women couldn’t even vote.
Hat tip to Mary “Carlotta” Myers for defying cultural norms, for marrying a man who believed in her, and for soaring. A true lady in defiance.
In honor of the 4th of July, let me share one of my favorite stories of a fiery, patriotic lady in Defiance–of the British!
Lord Cornwallis, the famous British general, once lamented, “We may destroy all the men in America, and we shall still have all we can do to defeat the women.”
In the fall of 1878, Deborah Samson, at the fiery age of 18, enlisted in the Continental Army…as a man. Spending the next three years as Robert Shirtliffe, Deborah did her part to secure liberty and freedom for America. She served in various capacities under Capt. Nathan Thayer and proved herself a capable, willing, and courageous Massachusetts soldier.
Talk about fight like a girl…
Never one to run from a battle, Deborah dove right in with the best and the bravest. She was shot once in the leg, nicked in the head by a British sword, then shot again in the other leg. All three times she refused medical attention so as not to have her ruse discovered. Unfortunately, she came down with a “brain fever” in 1781 and was treated by a Dr. Binney of Philadelphia.
Imagine his surprise!
He forthwith moved Deborah to his own home for recovery and sent a note to Capt. Thayer. Upon her recovery, Deborah was called to General Washington’s office. The legends differ here on what exactly happened next. Some say she was asked to deliver papers to the General, at which point he gave her the papers of discharge. Other stories say she delivered the papers, was called back to pick up new dispatches, and then Gen. Washington handed her the discharge papers.
Ever the Gentleman…
What all the stories agree on is that Washington chose not to publicly reprimand or embarrass Deborah. He handed her the discharge papers, without comment, and also handed her the soldier’s pay due her, and a note of advice. The note was lost to history, but knowing General Washington’s respect for women and his wry sense of humor, it probably said something to the effect of, “Now that you’ve shown my men how to fight, I think it is time you return to the duties of your fair sex. Thank you for your service to your country.”
Eventually, Deborah married a farmer named Gannet and had (naturally) three daughters. Ironically, she named the youngest one Patience.
An American girl after my own heart.
Happy 4th of July!
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.
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.
I know most often I focus on ladies in defiance–women who do amazing things or survive incredible situations. However, I was having a conversation about how truth is stranger and often more incredible than fiction. To prove my point, I shared the story of the man who is the inspiration behind my character of Dent Hernandez in Hang Your Heart on Christmas. I thought you might find it interesting as well. Enjoy!
The legendary Elfego Baca is the inspiration for my hero.
Elfego’s father Francisco was a lawman, and, on occasion, he allowed his son to ride with him in pursuit of some pretty tough hombres. Francisco taught his son to shoot, to ride, to fight, and to wear the badge like a man of justice, not vengeance. He could not have foreseen how well the lessons would stick.
In 1884, nineteen-year-old Elfego learned that the rowdy cowhands from John Slaughter’s ranch were running roughshod over the mostly-Spanish community of Lower Frisco, NM. Raping, pillaging, the usual outlaw behavior. Outraged, Elfego somehow wrangled a badge (real, fake, the details are fuzzy) and headed off to clean up the town.
Not long after his arrival, he was alerted to the ungentlemanly behavior of one Charlie McCarty. Drunk and belligerent, McCarty was howling at the moon, firing his gun indiscriminately, and generally scaring the townsfolk silly. Baca arrested the cowhand straightaway.
As is always the case in these situations, things quickly spiraled out of control and Elfego Baca found himself hiding in a jacal (ha-cal – a flimsy structure-like a shack) and being shot at by between forty and eighty very annoyed cowboys. Hundreds of thousands of rounds were fired at him during a thirty-three-hour siege. Just the door to the one room, cedar-and-mud structure was hit nearly four hundred times!
Elfego survived unscathed.
He did, however, kill one cowboy, shoot one horse (which then fell on its rider and killed him), and wound several of his attackers.
When the siege was over, our young lawman still wasn’t done. He sent a letter to the cowboys who had tried to kill him. It read, “I have a warrant here for your arrest. Please come in by March 15 and give yourself up. If you don’t, I’ll know you intend to resist arrest, and I will feel justified in shooting you on sight when I come after you.”
Most of the men couldn’t surrender fast enough.
Elfego’s good fortune and startling bravado was the foundation of his legendary status. He lived a colorful, sometimes controversial, life as a lawman, attorney, politician, and hero. He left behind a statue and some tall tales. I thank him for being the inspiration behind Hang Your Heart on Christmas.
By the way, Hang Your Heart is not only .99 this week, I just released the AUDIO version as well. Soooo many ways to enjoy a great story!
(This is a repost of a favorite blog from 2014 and, yes, I do compare Eliza to Donald Trump and, no, I won’t apologize)
Poor, oppressed women. We’ve been kept barefoot and pregnant our whole existence with little chance to improve our lot in life. America, this Land of Opportunity, provided no better alternatives…Or so spout the feminazis.
Gimme a break. If you read my blog, then you know women with fire in their bellies rocked their worlds…and no corset could hold them back.
Take the refined and educated Eliza Lucas Pinckney. The woman was a Donald Trump before there was a Trump.
Born in the West Indies in 1722, she attended school in England and learned all the proper lady subjects, such as French, needlework, and music, but she adored Botany. Her father, a British military officer, moved the family to Charleston, SC where he owned three plantations. His wife, however, died shortly after this move. At only 16, Eliza stepped up, helping raise her siblings and running the plantations whenever her father was called away for military duties.
A naturally savvy businesswoman, she spotted trends in the burgeoning textile industry right off. Dyes were in high demand world-wide so she actually cultivated an improved indigo plant, the plant that makes the stable blue dye.
Hitting this mark was nothing short of a Herculean task. Her first two crops were crippled by frost and then worms. Her third was robust and healthy, but the gentleman hired to extract the die purposely sabotaged the results. Hailing from Montserrat, he couldn’t allow South Carolina to develop an industry that would rival that of his home country. Eliza and her father both recognized the man for the scoundrel he was and fired him. Ironically, the man’s brother came in and salvaged the mess. Once Eliza knew she had a winner, she shared the seeds with other SC plantations.
In 1745-1746, only 5,000 pounds of indigo were exported from the Charleston area. Eliza’s strain bumped that to more than 130,000 pounds within three years!
When she was twenty-two, she married widower Charles Pinckney, a successful lawyer, politician, and neighbor. He had seen Eliza handle her father’s plantations and fell in love with the bright, independent young woman. He never tried to rein her in and Eliza loved him dearly…perhaps for his wisdom. Pinckney traveled frequently but was well aware his home was in good hands. She continued to run both her father’s and her husband’s plantations, and raise her own brood of four children.
Amazingly, Eliza also invested a great deal of time in educating her children. To no one’s surprise, her sons played major roles in the Revolutionary War and one would sign the Declaration of Independence. Why am I not surprised?
Eliza Pinckney died in 1793. She and her daughter had hosted George Washington once during his presidency and apparently made quite an impression. Upon hearing of her death, he volunteered to be a pallbearer at her funeral.
Eliza worked hard, loved well, and blessed many. She should inspire us all to become Ladies in Defiance!
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
I would like to thank reader and friend Jeannette Shields for tipping me off to this intriguing lady in defiance–a real one! I get so tired of the feminists making us feel like victims. We’re only victims if we choose that road. I’ve profiled many, many women who simply refused to accept their societal limits and shot right past them.
So, here ya go. Here is another one, a gal breaking the rules, exceeding the expectations of society, living life to the fullest. When Isabella crossed over the Jordan, I expect she did so riding at a full gallop!
“In 1854, at the age of twenty-two, Isabella Bird left England and began traveling as a cure for her ill health. Over the years she explored Asia, the Sandwich Islands, Hawaii, and both the Eastern and Western United States. A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains contains letters written to her sister during her six-month journey through the Colorado Rockies in 1873. Traveling alone, usually on horseback, often with no clear idea of where she will spend the night in what is mostly uninhabited wilderness, she covers over a thousand miles, most of it during the winter months.
A well-educated woman who had known a comfortable life, she thinks nothing of herding cattle at a hard gallop, falling through ice, getting lost in snowstorms, and living in a cabin where the temperatures are well below zero and her ink freezes even as she writes. She befriends desperados and climbs 14,000 foot mountains, ready for any adventure that allows her to see the unparalleled beauty of nature. Her rare complaints have more to do with having to ride side-saddle while in town than with the conditions she faces. An awe-inspiring woman, she is also a talented writer who brings to life Colorado of more than one hundred years ago, when today’s big cities were only a small collection of frame houses, and while and beautiful areas were still largely untouched. –Erica Bauermeister
Title of book: A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains
By Isabella L Bird
Available on Amazon. I thought the review (above) might give you food for fodder for a new Lady of Defiance.
The book is free.”
Thanks, Jeannette. Can’t wait to read it!
Lilian Heath. Such a demure name.
She was anything but.
In the 1880s, Lilian’s pa got her a job assisting Dr. Thomas Maghee, the physician
in the wide-open railroad town of Rawlins, WY. A petite little thing still in high school, Lilian was pretty fearless, but not stupid. She dressed like a man and carried a .32 when she went on calls late at night. She and the doc did everything from delivering babies to reconstruct a man’s face after his failed suicide attempt.
The nursing position set Lilian’s destiny. She graduated high school, and, with her father’s blessing and Dr. Maghee’s recommendation, headed off to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Keokuk, Iowa. She was one of only three women in the class. After completing her training, she returned to Rawlins to practice medicine and was well-received … by the menfolk. The women in town were another story. Catty, and jealous, they whispered behind her back, accused her of being a know-it-all, a few even refused to pay Lilian for services rendered. Lilian’s mother Calista wasn’t thrilled with the vocation either, believing her daughter had over-stepped her bounds as a woman.
Maybe, but if a man lay dying of a gunshot wound 30 or 40 miles away, Lilian put on her big girl breeches and made the ride.
Clearly, being a trained female physician was a bad thing, because you could, you know, save lives.
Lilian met her husband, Louis Nelson, in Rawlins and they were married in 1898. He was a painter and a decorator. Go figure. Lilian practiced medicine for fifteen years and then quietly retired, though she kept her medical license current much, much longer than that.
Unfortunately, you can’t read any article about Lilian that doesn’t mention her “connection” to an outlaw. In 1881, while Lilian was still in high school and a candy-striper, for all intents, Big Nose George Parrot was lynched for murdering a deputy. When no one claimed the body, Doctor Maghee stepped up. Curious to see if the bandit’s brain was somehow deformed, he dissected the man’s head, in the name of science. Lilian assisted with the autopsy and was given Big Nose George’s skull cap as a souvenir. She kept it for years, using it for everything from a doorstop to a pipe holder.
Reporters loved to mention that story as if it was her greatest achievement.
My guess is, there were a few members of the press she would have liked to use as doorstops.
But she didn’t let the claws or the snipes get to her. Lilian never gave in, never backed down, never lost faith. I say thanks for paving the way!
Love conquers all. Eventually, right? One of my favorite stories of a determined man finally winning the heart of his beloved is the true tale of Ethel and John Love. Yes, Love. This is the story of a girl who held out against this love-struck sheepherder for five years…but John wore her down. I hereby republish this blog from 2012.
Again, I am intrigued to read between the lines. A city girl leaves Denver, degree in hand, to accept a job as a teacher on a Wyoming ranch. Her classroom consists of seven students. During her school year, she meets her future husband, a handsome, ambitious sheepherder. It takes this stubborn Scotsman five years and dozens of sappy letters to convince Ethel to accept his proposal. What was she waiting on?
Born into a relatively wealthy family, Ethel Phoebe Waxham was a fearless young thing with a big heart. She spent a summer volunteering in the slums of New York if that tells you anything. In 1905 she finished at Wellesly and took a job teaching the children on the Red Bluff Ranch in Wyoming. Her letters indicate she fell madly in love with the place and its people, but not so much with rancher John Love. Oh, she liked him well enough and appreciated the fact that he made the eleven-hour ride to see her several times during the school year. Ethel, though, apparently wasn’t ready to settle down. She had, you know, places to go, people to see, things to learn. Or was she simply afraid marriage might mean her life would pass into obscurity?
At the end of that first teaching job, she enrolled in the University of Colorado to obtain a master’s in literature. That’s when the letters started arriving. Lots of them. John Love made no secret of why he was writing. Ethel needed to be his wife and he would wait for her. No matter how long it took. Unless and until she married another.
When Ethel received her degree in 1907, she took a job in Wisconsin, again as a teacher. Still the letters followed. And she answered, often with an apology that she shouldn’t. She didn’t want to give him false hope, after all. Once she even scolded him for closing his letter with “ever yours,” instead of the customary “sincerely yours.” Yet, Ethel did not entwine her life with any other men. She didn’t often attend dances or parties. Strange girl. It’s almost as if she was the female version of George Bailey. Perhaps restless, she moved back to Colorado in 1908 and continued her work, but where was her heart, I wonder?
Ethel spoke four languages, enjoyed writing, especially poetry, even staged theatrical productions. But that sheepherder, who by now was doing pretty well for himself, wouldn’t give her any peace. Finally, this fiercely independent American girl caved. The two were married in 1910 and remained together the rest of their lives, happy by all accounts.
If you’d like to know more about John and Ethel, check out this piece from PBS. It’s worth the read.