Where it All Began

by Heidi M. Thomas

In the early 1940s my grandparents moved from the Cut Bank, Montana area to Ingomar to the ranch I picture from my earliest memories. This is truly “the middle of nowhere”: 42 miles from Forsyth and 26 to Melstone on Highway 12, 100 miles to Billings and 87 to Miles City via I-94. (See my post Childhood Memories, Adult Discoveries from 2014. https://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/category/travel/)

My Grandparents’ House Still Stands

The town was established in 1908, as a station stop on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. Although the area attracted numerous homesteaders during the decade following the railroad’s completion, the region proved to be far too arid and inhospitable for intensive agricultural use, and by the 1920s the town was in decline. The railroad through the area was abandoned in 1980, and only a handful of people remain in Ingomar today—population 14.

Ingomar was a trade center for the surrounding sheep raising area and had one of the largest sheep shearing plants in the state. In the early days, Ingomar and Sumatra were the chief trading towns for the homesteaders in western Garfield County. Freight wagons were often caught in the Gumbo Flats—a wide strip of land south of Sand Springs that can’t be crossed when it’s wet. (From Cheney’s Names on the Face of Montana, Mountain Press Publishing Company)

Old Main Street Ingomar (photo courtesy Billings Gazette)

At one time, Ingomar featured 46 businesses, including a bank, railroad station, two elevators, two general stores, two hotels, two lumber yards, plus rooming houses, saloons, cafes, a drugstore, blacksmith shop, claims office, doctor, dentist and maternity home. The original school building still stands, although in disrepair. Bookman’s General Store has been incorporated into the bar/cafe.

A fire in 1921 destroyed much of the town, and while some businesses rebuilt, others moved on.

Depression and drought killed off most of the rest of Ingomar, until the Jersey Lilly Bar and Café was, if not the last place standing, at least the last place open for business.

The only eatery for miles around, the Jersey Lilly is on the National Register of Historic Places and inducted into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2017. It is now for sale as the owners want to retire and spend time with their grandchildren.

The Jersey Lilly is Still Open Today

In 1914, the building was originally a bank, which closed in 1921 due to misappropriation of funds. In 1948, it began operating as the Jersey Lilly Bar & Cafe when it was purchased by Bob Seward, originally from Texas.

The name originates with the infamous “hanging judge” Roy Bean of Langtry, TX. Somewhere along his wild and wooly way, Roy Bean had developed a schoolboy crush on the beautiful English actress Lillie Langtry. He nicknamed his saloon the “Jersey Lillie,” for the British island where she was born. 

The Montana Jersey Lilly retained the original bank building character and charm, with the original tin ceiling, bank vaults and wooden flooring with the outline of teller cages still visible. Many of the original fixtures, including the beautiful cherry wood back bar remain. The piece was brought up on river boat from St. Louis to Forsyth in the early 1900s. It sat in Forsyth during prohibition before it was brought to Ingomar in 1933 in the back of a Model T. As the story goes, this is why there are scratches in the mirror.

The Beautiful Cherrywood Back Bar

The town has no other businesses besides the Jersey Lilly and the post office. The rodeo grounds are still active with the Ingomar Rodeo Club, which puts on two major events every year—in July and Labor Day Weekend.

Ingomar and the Jersey Lilly play prominent roles in my novels, beginning with Dare to Dream, which takes place in the 1940s and is based on my rodeo cowgirl grandmother. This continues with the series based on my parents in Seeking the American Dream and Finding True Home.

Book 1 in Rescue Series

Now, in Rescuing Samantha, my character has returned to her great-grandparents’ ranch to follow her own dream, at first to raise Thoroughbred horses. But she soon discovers the harsh climate and far distances are too much of a deterrent to this dream. Almost by accident, she rescues a couple of horses and begins to work with troubled teens and veterans with PTSD, continuing her story in Rescuing Hope and the third in the trilogy, Rescue Ranch Rising, which will be published later this year.

Published in: on February 10, 2022 at 10:16 pm  Comments (3)  

Round Robin: Favorite Time Period

Round Robin logoThe Round Robin topic for this month is: In what time period do you prefer to set your stories – past, present, or future? What are the problems and advantages of that choice? Would you like to change?

So far, the books I’ve written have taken place in the first half of the twentieth century. My three novels, Cowgirl Dreams, Follow the Dream, and Dare to Dream are all based on my grandmother who rode bucking stock in rodeos during the 1920s and take place in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. My new novel, Seeking the American Dream, is based on my mother who emigrated from Germany after WWII in 1948.

3 book covers

I enjoy writing historical fiction based on family history, because it brings them to life for me. Some of it I remember, but doing research on the era is also an enjoyable endeavor for me.

Life in the early 1900s was difficult in many ways, especially when compared to our modern conveniences of today. They had no electricity and no running water, so part of my ancestors’ day was spent carrying water from a well or reservoir, chopping wood or gathering coal for heating, and cooking everything “from scratch.” My grandmother and mother were not able to grab a cake mix from the shelf and whip up a cake in 30 minutes or less. Ingredients, such as flour and sugar, were purchased in bulk a couple of times a year, and eggs were gathered from the hen house. The wood or coal-burning stove had to be fired up, fed, and stoked and then the timing had to be perfect to judge the right temperature to bake the cake or bread or roast the meat.

SeekingAmericanDream_1.5x2It was a simpler and more peaceful time, however, with no TVs or computers or cell phones blaring the bad news of the day. Family was foremost, but neighbors helped each other with work and food and camaraderie during harvest, branding calves, or shipping time. Evenings were spent with family, reading, mending, listening to music or radio programs, and planning the next day.

While we live in exciting times, sometimes I miss the “good old days,” even though life was hard at times.

I am working on novels now that are more contemporary, and I’m having fun with those as well. In some ways, they’re easier to write because I know more about the period, but also because these are pure fiction, not based on family history.

Which are your favorite eras to read?

Please visit the following blogs to find out what time period other authors enjoy writing about:

Marie Laval http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/
Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-14G
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com


Cowgirl Up!

I am so excited to share that my book Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women has won the Global E-Books Award in the non-fiction history category.

CowgirlUp Cover 1x1.5

When someone says “Cowgirl Up!” it means rise to the occasion, don’t give up, and  do it all without whining or complaining. And the cowgirls of the early twentieth century did it all, just like the men, only wearing skirts and sometimes with a baby waiting behind the chutes.

Women learned to rope and ride out of necessity, helping their fathers, brothers, and husbands with the ranch work. But for some women, it went further than that. They caught the fever of freedom, the thirst for adrenaline, and the thrill of competition, and many started their rodeo careers as early as age fourteen. From Alice and Margie Greenough of Red Lodge, whose father told them “If you can’t ride ’em, walk,” to Jane Burnett Smith of Gilt Edge who sneaked off to ride in rodeos at age eleven, women made wide inroads into the masculine world of rodeo.

Montana boasts its share of women who “busted broncs” and broke ranks in the macho world of rodeo during the early to mid-1900s. Cowgirl Up! is the history of these cowgirls, their courage, and their accomplishments. GEbA_Gold

And here is a related post with some wonderful photos of the “bad-ass” cowgirls of the 20th century.

Cowboy Wisdom for Today

I am sharing these pearls of cowboy wisdom, courtesy of fellow western author, Ron Scheer, who blogs at Buddies in the Saddle and The Real West

  • Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.
  • Don’t expect mules and cooks to share your sense of humor.
  • Your buckle don’t shine in the dirt. Get up.
  • Don’t let your yearnings get ahead of your earnings.
  • Don’t wake a sleepin’ rattler.
  • Ride it like you stole it.
  • Size does matter. The bigger your buckle the better.
  • Cattle know why they stampede, but they ain’t a-talkin’.
  • The fastest way to move cattle is slowly.
  • If you’re gonna drive cattle thru town, do it on Sunday. There’s little traffic and people are less disposed to cuss at ya.
  • A hat brim breaks a spider web before your face does.
  • When somebody outdraws you, smile and walk away. There’s plenty of time to look tough when you’re out of sight.
  • Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.
  • You cannot unsay a cruel word.
Published in: on December 15, 2011 at 1:13 am  Comments (1)  
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Old Time Photos

I love looking through my grandparents’ photo albums and trying to get a glimpse of their world, what it must have been like to live in the early 1900s.

Take another look at that world at Frontier Life in the West, photos by John C. H. Grabill. Between 1887 and 1892,  Grabill sent 188 photographs to the Library of Congress for copyright protection. Grabill is known as a western photographer, documenting many aspects of frontier life — hunting, mining, western town landscapes and white settlers’ relationships with Native Americans.

Published in: on October 8, 2011 at 7:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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Cowboy Rules

A little Cowboy humor to give you a chuckle (no offense to anyone intended.)

Cowboy rules for:

Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Nebraska, Idaho, and the rest of the Wild West are as follows:

1. Pull your pants up. You look like an idiot.

2. Turn your cap right, your head ain’t crooked.

3. Let’s get this straight: it’s called a ‘gravel road.’ I drive a pickup truck because I want to. No matter how slow you drive, you’re gonna get dust on your Lexus. Drive it or get out of the way.

4. They are cattle. That’s why they smell like cattle. They smell like money to us. Get over it. Don’t like it? I-10 & I-40 go east and west, I-17 & I-15 goes north and south. Pick one and go.

5. So you have a $60,000 car. We’re impressed. We have $250,000 Combines that are driven only 3 weeks a year.

6. Every person in the Wild West waves. It’s called being friendly. Try to understand the concept.

7. If that cell phone rings while a bunch of geese/pheasants/ducks/doves are comin’ in during a hunt, we WILL shoot it outta your hand. You better hope you don’t have it up to your ear at the time.

8. Yeah. We eat trout, salmon, deer and elk. You really want sushi and caviar? It’s available at the corner bait shop.

9. The ‘Opener’ refers to the first day of deer season. It’s a religious holiday held the closest Saturday to the first of November.

10. We open doors for women. That’s applied to all women, regardless of age.

11. No, there’s no ‘vegetarian special’ on the menu. Order steak, or you can order the Chef’s Salad and pick off the 2 pounds of ham and turkey.

12. When we fill out a table, there are three main dishes: meats, vegetables, and breads. We use three spices: salt, pepper, and ketchup! Oh, yeah … We don’t care what you folks in Cincinnati call that stuff you eat… IT AIN’T REAL CHILI!!

13. You bring ‘Coke’ into my house, it better be brown, wet and served over ice. You bring ‘Mary Jane’ into my house, she better be cute, know how to shoot, drive a truck, and have long hair.

14. College and High School Football is as important here as the Giants, the Yankees, the Mets, the Lakers and the Knicks, and a dang site more fun to watch.

15. Yeah, we have golf courses. But don’t hit the water hazards – it spooks the fish.

16. Turn down that blasted car stereo! That thumpity-thump ain’t music, anyway. We don’t want to hear it anymore than we want to see your boxers! Refer back to #1!

Published in: on June 6, 2011 at 10:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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Trailing Horses

I just read an article on the Cattlegrowers blog about trailing horses. Author Jack Blerry says, “With the widespread use of the truck and stock trailer, trailing livestock, especially horses, has become a thing of the past in most parts of the country. Many hands do nothing more than jingle up horses out of a horse trap come a morning. In big country, whether out on the desert or way back up in the mountains, one still needs to know how to trail horses from one place to another.”

In 1930 my grandparents, faced with drought, dwindling grass, and potentially starving horses, trailed their 100 head from Cut Bank, Montana to Salmon, Idaho. The 350-mile trek took a good two months and took them over the narrow, steep Lost Trail Pass between Montana and Idaho.01_12_19---Horses-New-Forest_web

Following is an excerpt from my upcoming novel Follow the Dream, which shows some of the hazards faced on that trip.


“Gitup there.” The cowboys yelled and whistled to push the horses toward the bridge spanning the wide Flathead River. Despite the long drought, blue-green water raced over jutting boulders, and formed deep, eddying pools along steep, tree-lined banks.

Nettie looked across the long wooden bridge. Must be a good 500 feet. Those side rails didn’t look like they’d hold back a calf, much less a herd of horses. And it was a good ten feet to the rock-strewn river below.

Jake rode up front, leading a draft pair on a rope. They would cross first and the rest of the herd would follow. At least that’s what Nettie hoped. She reached over and slapped a straggler on the rump with her hat.

The men closed ranks on either side of the horses. Nettie pushed from behind, her nerves strung tight. “Go on, git, git.”

Jake’s pair stepped onto the structure but halted as their hooves thumped on wooden planks. They snorted and pawed at this new footing, then tried to back off. Jake tugged on the lead rope. “C’mon now.”

First one, then the other horse thrust a leg forward, hesitated, then made another step, and another. Jake coaxed them toward the other side. The next several horses followed, then more. Nettie reined Tootsie to the left then back again, urging the group to keep moving. Ah, maybe this wouldn’t be too bad after all.

Hooves thundered and planks rattled. The entire structure swayed. Nettie gripped her reins. The bridge might not hold up under all that weight. Maybe they should have taken them across one at a time so the horses wouldn’t crowd each other until the railings gave way.

Jake made it across with his lead pair. He called and clucked at the horses on the bridge. Those who reached the other end bolted off. The structure shook in their wake. The horses still on solid ground on Nettie’s side balked at the entrance. They milled around in confusion, flailed the air with their hooves, and whinnied with fear. Anything to avoid stepping onto that swaying, noisy bridge.

Dust swirled. The horses’ fear and sweat was sharp in Nettie’s nose. She saw confusion in the great mass of horseflesh. Animals turned every which way. Some came back toward her. Teeth gritted, she urged Tootsie into a fast trot, criss-crossing the rear of the herd. The men riding the flank did the same, whooping and slapping at the stubborn horses with their lariats.

Someone motioned to Shorty to help and he pulled the chuck wagon up on the left, just before the bridge entrance, to form a barrier.

Nettie caught a breath. Neil’s still inside. “Get him outta there!”

Published in: on August 24, 2009 at 12:26 am  Comments (15)  

Images from Big Sky Country

I’ve written before about the palpable feeling of “home” when I return to my home state of Montana. It was no different this time, as I traveled the circumference of the large state on my book tour and visited places I had not been to in many years.

From the mountains…

Apgar, Glacier Park

Apgar, Glacier Park

To the prairie:

Big Sky Country between Miles City and Billings

Big Sky Country between Miles City and Billings

A little bit of both:

Big Timber area

Big Timber area

And eastern Montana is NOT flat:

E MT betw Circle & Jordan

Coulees & rolling hills between Circle & Jordan

Windmills, a common sight in Montana

Windmills, a common sight in Montana

Old-time Montana ranching preserved at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, Deer Lodge:

Grant-Kohrs Ranch

Grant-Kohrs Ranch

The way they used to farm

The way they used to farm

Lady Blacksmith at Grant-Kohrs Ranch

Lady Blacksmith at Grant-Kohrs Ranch

Published in: on June 23, 2009 at 10:11 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Model T


This is my grandfather, Otto Gasser, in his Model T Ford, probably about 1923. My dad later restored this vehicle during the 1960s.

In my book, Cowgirl Dreams, I talk about Jake buying a used car and coming to pick Nettie up on a date to go to a rodeo:

“A strange sound brought her up short. Was someone running a threshing machine outside? But the threshers weren’t due for weeks yet. The engine noise grew louder.

The horses in the corral whinnied. Then a series of loud pops propelled her to the window. Who was making that noise? Her folks were in town, and her brothers had gone to the pasture. Were they back, shooting at something?

With one boot on, the other hanging from her hand, Nettie could only stare, her mouth open wide. Here came Jake, driving an open-air Model T over the dusty wagon track. His grin reached from ear to ear, and he waved his hat in the air as though he rode a bucking bronc.

Nettie nearly forgot to breathe. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Jake driving a car? Not riding a horse?

He squeezed the horn bulb, sounding a raucous squawk, and whooped when he saw her run out of the house, swinging her empty boot.

“Hoooeee. Lookee here what I got.”

“Jake, what in the world?”

The engine cut out with a jerk. Jake jumped over the side and swept his hands toward the car. “Ain’t she a beaut?

Sure got her cheap, only two-hundred fifty. Even has an electric starter. Guess we can go places now.”

Nettie’s hand flew to cover her mouth. Her eyes felt as wide as full moons. “It’s really nice.” She limped around the machine in one boot, looking at the hard, thin rubber tires, the gleaming black running boards, the pinstriped upholstered seats, excitement building.

“We’re really going to ride in a car?” She’d never ridden in a car. In fact, nobody she knew even owned one.

Jake followed her, chuckling. “Yup. If you wanna finish dressing, I guess we could go on to the rodeo.”

Nettie looked down at herself, realizing that she was still minus a boot. Her mouth twitched upward into a smile. “Okay, big shot. I’ll get my boot on and you can take me for a ride.”

© 2008 Heidi M. Thomas

And here is a great video on the assembly of the Model T Ford.

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 4:41 am  Comments (6)  
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