Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Wisconsin's Great River Road, an Historical "Wander"land for Setting a Story (and a Mini-Library Giveaway!)

Some weeks ago I asked friends to help me choose a town in which to set a new novel. The parameters were that it had to be a town along Wisconsin's 412 mile Highway 35 State Trunk Tour. More that half that distance is known as Wisconsin's Great River Road, a 250-mile stretch of highway 35 that runs adjacent to the Mississippi River. Along that section alone there are 33 communities from which I could choose. 

Friends offered some really good suggestions for town choices, along with reasons why I should select each one. I'm starting to narrow it down, but I've yet to decide because my jury--the little people that live in my head--are still out to lunch on a couple of questions. In the meantime, I'll share a little bit about Highway 35 and that amazing River Road voted "Prettiest Drive in the U.S".

Looking north along the Great River Road, limestone bluffs rise prominently to the right, and vistas of Minnesota stretch out on the opposite side of the Mississippi.

The famous drive begins in the southwest corner of Wisconsin, in the unincorporated town of Keiler, just a short bicycle ride from the Iowa border near Dubuque. The section known as the Great River Road ends up north at tiny Prescott, Wisconsin, one of the oldest of Wisconsin's river towns, settled all the way back in 1839 (although communities existed all the way back to the 1600s). If you continue your state trunk tour northward to follow 35 along the St. Croix River, you come upon more small towns tucked away in the vast woods. So many lovely locations! How will I ever choose?

There are endless places to stop and take in the beauty of the Mississippi shoreline.


The River Road is the path of the explorers, fur traders, immigrant settlers, lumber barons, soldiers, river boatmen, and adventurers of every ilk. Ancient cultures who lived along the river have left behind huge effigy mounds in the shapes of animals and birds. Here on this route, battles between native factions turned the rivers red, while not long after, fortune-makers built mansions in the bluffs, farms were carved out of the woodland, and area towns expanded. 

Laura Ingalls was born along what would become the Great River Road, and those who love the Little House stories can visit a recreation of the little cabin in the big woods where she was born just outside of Pepin.

Birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pepin, Wisconsin

Prairie du Chien, at the junction of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers is home to a big part of Wisconsin's early fur trade and was also the important post where both Britain and France sought to control that trade. Jefferson Davis commanded the fort there before he became the leader of the confederacy during the Civil War, and the Sauk war chief Black Hawk surrendered there after the Black Hawk War of 1832. 

The fort surgeon, William Beaumont, is credited to conducting groundbreaking medical experiments at Fort Crawford, and a museum there has three buildings dedicated to medical history. Also, every year, a great voyageur rendezvous is re-enacted at Prairie du Chien.

There are stories along this route of an Indian maiden who leapt to her death when forced to marry a man she didn't love (Maiden Rock), and of rum-runners and bootleggers. There are also stories of the homes built by Wisconsin's first millionaire and our first governor. 

Maiden Rock

But this is just a nibble at what there has been to discover since the route became known as the Great River Road way back in the 1930s.


The Great River Road is actually a series of roads and byways that that follow the course of the Mississippi through ten states total. An act of Congress in 1924 established the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge. Then a Lock and Dam system built in the 1930s resulted in the beautiful pools and channels we see today. As automobile travel increased throughout the twenties and into the thirties, Wisconsin saw a need to improve the road from the deep, muddy ruts that existed along the Mississippi into something that would attract the new crop of driving tourist. Then, when the Great River Road received it's national title in 1938, each state gave the road its own commission. When I look at old pictures from that time (sorry, I can't share them due to copyright!) they remind me of scenes from the television show The Waltons, as they drove along those scenic dirt roads. Then I see pictures of ruts so deep with wet mud, I have to wonder how how they ever turned them into roadways.

Nevertheless, one of the reasons I want to set a story along this route is because most of those towns remain tucked into the coulees and bluffs almost unnoticed, like little mountain hamlets. Here are two videos that are fun to watch. One is just a brief overview of the beauty of the route. They should have filmed it a little later to get the true fall colors.

Beautiful Vistas!

A "SightseeingSally" video @SightseeingSally on Youtube which gives a tour of Alma, Wisconsin, a town with unique history.

The little town of Alma in the above video is definitely in the running for the setting of my next book. A couple of reasons being that while it's a town of under 800 people, most of it's buildings are on the National Historic Register. It also has a number of interesting "streets" that are actually stairways. And the views! Such vistas! Watch the video, and try to imagine what it might've been like in 1920, before paved roads, traffic, and a lot of power lines.

Have you driven sections of the Great River Road in any of the ten states it covers? Have you taken this scenic Wisconsin tour?

I wish you a blessed holiday season.
Please take this opportunity to enter to win a sweet historical, mini-library!
The drawing is for paperbacks of seven books by seven authors. However, if you're not in the continental U.S., the authors will send ebooks to the winner.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Mail Order Brides and Romance by Post—with Giveaway by Donna Schlachter

Matrimonials,” The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, CA), February 7, 1909, 44. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

When non-historians sit around with a cup of coffee and discuss American history, there are at least three favorite topics: Pony Express, orphan trains, and mail order brides.

The interesting thing about that is that they seem completely unconnected. And yet, as we consider the three, perhaps they have more in common than we first think.

The Pony Express lasted about eighteen months, while orphan trains relocated more than two hundred thousand orphaned and abandoned children in the seventy-five years the system operated. As for mail order brides—well before the United States Postal Service was formed, men sought women in America, bringing them over from England, Ireland, Scotland, and other countries in Europe. In fact, folks are still finding spouses from other countries.

Prior to the 1800s, connections between a man seeking a wife, and a woman willing to answer, came in the form of personal introductions or family or business connections. It wasn’t uncommon for parents who were close friends to betroth—or promise—their children would wed.

In the 1800s, once newspapers and printing houses were established, advertising for a spouse became much easier. Papers printed ads, and respondents indicated their interest by writing a letter in care of the newspaper. Magazines operated in a similar fashion, sometimes allocating several pages for these advertisements.


Mary and Elkanah Walker married in 1838.
Portrait of Mary Richardson Walker and Elkanah Walker, Cage 57, Elkanah and Mary Richardson Walker Papers 1830-1938, Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

Between the Civil War and the 1830s, a new phenomenon called “the love match” took over Western Europe and America. The idea grew that love was now necessary for a successful marriage. Perhaps perpetuated by the increase in romance novels—or perhaps the novels were a result of the notion—but either way, parties to marriage often considered love was more important. In the past, couples recognized other benefits to marriage: shared duties and responsibilities; combining businesses or land; continuing a family legacy or bloodline; and, of course, children.


These four men in Montana (near Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park) at the turn of the 20th century advertised their want for wives on the side of a cabin. From left-to-right they were: Bill Daucks, Frank Geduhn, Esli Apgar, and Dimon Apgar. Frank, and Dimon eventually married, but not mail-order brides. Courtesy of Glacier National Park Photo Archives, photo HPF 9871.

There is no evidence that love trumps loyalty, honor, family, or faith, however. Many mail order couples—and indeed, most of the marriages of the time—were not based in love. No doubt many grew to love their spouses over the course of the marriage, but overall, this love match idea was slow to take hold, particularly among older families. There is no evidence available to suggest that those who married through the mail order system were any happier, or their marriages any more—or less—successful, than couples introduced in the conventional way.

The process varied, but usually one party placed an advertisement, registered with a marriage agency, or provided information to friends and family that they desired to marry. The other party responded, which began a time of exchanging letters. This might go on for as little as a month—one letter each way—or for a year or more. Arrangements were made for the woman to travel to the man, which he paid for. Sometimes a commitment was made in writing, but occasionally it didn’t happen until they’d met and deemed each other suitable. There is an account of one couple who married four hours after they met in person, although they knew each other through family connections and had corresponded for over a year.

And then there’s the story of a woman who rejected the man after meeting him because he had red hair. In her experience, red-heads were always “cross”—angry.

Some mail-order brides never even arrived at the station. Rather, they accepted the travel fare and pocketed the money. Mail Order Marriages: Two in Spokane Turn out Differently,” East Oregonian (Pendleton, OR), March 23, 1911, 6. Historic Oregon Newspapers.

Scams were likely, and an untold number of men lost their potential mate, their money, and their pride when she never arrived. If the phrase “once bitten, twice shy” is true, many of these poor fellows likely lived out their lives as bachelors. Or chose a woman who lived nearby.

Fast forward to today, and we see that a slightly different version of marriages still takes place. Common in World War II, soldiers still bring wives home from foreign lands. The internet has opened the world to those seeking a mate. In fact, I am an internet bride. We just celebrated our twenty-third anniversary. But that’s a story for another time.

In my upcoming release, The Freedom Stage: Book 2 of Mail-Order Romance, planned for December 31st, 2022, my heroine runs from her past—straight into the arms of a stranger.

In Book 1 of this series, The New Hope Train, strangers meet on a train and fall in love, and must decide whether to fulfill their commitment to another, or to break their word and marry each other.

Giveaway: Leave a comment, and I will randomly draw one name to receive an ebook copy of The New Hope Train. Include your email so I can contact you. Comments without an email will not be included in the drawing. Please cleverly disguise your email address so the bots don’t find you. For example: donna AT livebytheword DOT com

About The New Hope Train:

October 1895

Mary Johannson has scars on her body that can’t compare with the scars on her heart. She is alone in the world, with no family, no prospects, and no home.

John Stewart is at his wit’s end. His wife of three years died in childbirth, leaving him with a toddler and an infant, both girls. Theirs was the love of fairy tales, and while he has no illusions about finding another like her, his children need a mother.

Though separated by thousands of miles, they commit to a mail-order marriage. But on their journey to New Hope, they meet and realize the life they’d planned would be a lie. Can they find their way back from the precipice and into the love of God and each other, or are they destined to keep their word and deny their heart?

Check it out here: https://www.amazon.com/Hope-Train-Mail-Order-Romance-Book-ebook/dp/B09BBQTD7M

About The Freedom Stage:

A young woman runs from her past, straight into the arms of a stranger. Was she going from bad to worse? Or did God hold her in His hands?

A death-bed promise, a family legacy, an unexpected wife--how can he turn his back on them to fulfill a vow?

Preorder here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BLZMWNTD

About Donna:

A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both, and is an avid oil painter.

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