Sunday, August 20, 2023

No Life for a Lady, an Original Wild West Book

Escape into creative worlds of fiction.

I cut my teeth on tales of the Wild West, spending many a happy Sunday afternoon hunkered down with a bowl of popcorn as cowboys rode their horses across my television screen. My father often joined me, something I remember with particular fondness now he is gone. 

The lure of the American West still has a hold on me. But how much of the western mystique can I believe? Was it as violent as its reputation? In short, what was the West really like? In search of answers, I read orginal diaries and other documents, scoured countless photographs from back in the day, haunted museums, visited ghost towns, and even retraced the Oregon Trail. 

One of my original research resources hails from 1874. No Life for a Lady (Women of the West) by Agnes Morley Cleaveland, provides a first-hand account of growing up in the Wild West. It offers fascinating glimpses into a bygone era.

My favorite passage is Agnes's description of amusing herself by circling a horse pasture atop a log fence. Her brothers and sister followed. Running alongside were quite the playmates--a young deer named Spotty, the fawn's adoptive mother (a goat), a cat, a rooster, a bear cub named Josh, a burro, and a milk-pen calf. Every so often, one of Agnes's brothers would step onto the burro’s back, and this summoned the rooster who generally accompanied him. In the author’s words: “The burro tolerated them, but never Josh.” Can you imagine?

Ever wonder how the mail went through in remote parts of the West? As Agnes explained, the most common method was to “put a kid on a horse.” It wasn’t uncommon for children to ride alone for 20 miles at a time to deliver mail or messages. This doesn't square with the feudal-mentality oftend associated with the Wild West. What happened to fearing outlaws and Indians?

In reality, Agnes felt more threatened by the packs of coyotes that might trail her while riding. Remaining in the saddle saved her from attack, but sometimes the beasts drew close enough to nip at her horse's heels. 

Agnes and her family, were once forced to leave their home during tension with local tribes, but most of the time Native Americans didn’t play a large part in her life. She encountered more outlaws, and recalled vividly how one of them rode into her mother’s ranch, dropping with exhaustion. In her teens, Agnes described being met by two outlaws while riding alone at night. The first gave her his spent horse to care for. The second greeted her mildly and let her pass. When she heard that he died later that night, Agnes felt certain it was due in part because of his unwillingness to frighten her by exchanging her fresher horse for his weary mount.

Agnes Morley (Class of 1900)
member of Stanford University women's basketball team.

Women were usually treated gently in the West, even by outlaws. As Agnes put it: “We didn’t have the horror crimes of today.” That’s a telling statement. 

No Life for a Lady (Women of the West) by Agnes Morley Cleaveland is an original resource from my research for Montana Gold, a western historical romance series about a family of Irish immigrants surviving in the Wild West. Learn more about the books at the end of this post.

Have you learned any surprising facts about the Wild West, either from this article or elsewhere? Comment to let me know.

What's New with Janalyn Voigt

I learned on August 1st, to my infinite delight, that it was National Planner Day. How this lovely fact escaped me until now, I'm not certain. Making lists, scheduling my time, and organizing my sock drawer are all things I enjoy. Reflect that researching historical fiction calls for organization, and you'll understand its appeal for a self-confessed nerd like me. 

If you share my passion, or just want more order in your life, read on. 

I divide tasks into three categories. Personal activities include church and spiritual growth, connecting with friends and family, walking my cat (yes, I really do this), self-care, reading, and the like. Household chores consist of cooking, dishes, laundry, scrubbing the bathroom--you get the idea. The last category is for writing and the duties surrounding it (like promotions, emails, replying to reader comments).  

Three periods take up my waking hours: morning, afternoon, and evening. It becomes, then, a simple matter of dividing tasks into the best time of day for them. In my case, mornings are for household chores, afternoon is when I write, and I take care of personal items in the evening. This system helps me a great deal. Maybe it would work for you, also. Even if you have a different occupation or you don't work from home. a variation of this system should still work. Wouldn't it be wonderful to make more time for reading?

Find out more about Janalyn Voigt and her books. 

The Montana Gold series explores love, courage, and faith at a time of upheaval for America. Fall in love with these redemptive love stories.  Learn more.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today. I never heard the fact of children delivering mail and messages.