No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy

Jean Henry Mead’s newest historical novel, No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy, has just been released. Jean is a national award-winning photojournalist and author of the Logan and Cafferty mystery/suspense series as well as Wyoming historical novels, children’s mysteries and nonfiction books. She began her career as a news reporter and worked as a freelance photojournalist. Jean also served as a news, magazine and small press editor. Her magazine articles have been published domestically as well as abroad and she’s published 19 books.

No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy

By Jean Henry Mead

No Escape coverI began writing No Escape in my mind more than 20 years ago while I was researching a centennial history of central Wyoming. Reading old microfilmed newspapers, I was surprised by the contradictory reports about the hangings of a young Sweetwater Valley couple accused of running a bawdy house (called a “hog ranch) and accepting cattle in exchange for their services.

The six wealthy cattlemen responsible for the murders of Ellen Watson-Averell and her husband James claimed the murders were justified. But when they came to trial, all the witnesses had disappeared or were found dead. Therefore, the case was thrown out of court.

A Cheyenne newspaper, controlled by cattle interests, railed against homesteaders, whom they said were rustling the poor cattlemen’s stock, so vigilante law was a last resort. The Rawlins newspaper, however, said that James Averell was well thought of and considered a good citizen. Averell had been appointed postmaster and justice of the peace by Thomas Moonlight, the Wyoming territorial governor.

James’s wife, Ellen, had worked as a cook for two years at the Rawlins House and was known as kind and caring young woman. But the couple made the mistake of filing homesteads on Albert Bothwell’s hay meadow, land the cattleman had been grazing for years without paying it for it. And James wrote letters to the editor of the Casper Weekly Mail complaining that cattlemen were gobbling up homestead land for 75 miles along the Sweetwater River.

Because I didn’t want to end the book with the hangings (I hate sad endings), I decided to add another character, Susan Cameron, a young woman from Missouri. Susan is a composite of some 200,000 single women homesteaders who attempted to prove up on their own land. Some were successful, some not. Susan filed for land next to the Averells, placing her own life in danger along with her veterinarian friend, Michael O’Brien, and three boys whom the Averells had taken under their wings.

After their deaths, Ellen was vilified and called “Cattle Kate.” News of the hangings spread worldwide and the murder of a woman in Wyoming Territory was publicly condemned, yet Ellen’s own father believed the lies spread about her and forbade his family to speak her name again.

A number of films have been produced and books have been written about the outlaw, “Cattle Kate.” I’ve even read poems andJeanHenryMeadPhoto heard cowboy songs about her. The truth didn’t surface until George W. Hufsmith was commissioned to write an opera about the hangings and spent the next 20 years researching the subject. Thanks to George’s research and that of my own, I was able to complete my novel, No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy.

No Escape can be purchased on Kindle and in print.

Jean’s website:

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Escape, A Wyoming Historical Novel

jeanhenrymeadphotoMy guest today is the author of three novels, including Escape, A Wyoming Historical. She’s also the author of seven nonfiction books and numerous award-winning magazine articles.

Escape is the story of a young girl, masquerading as a boy, kidnapped by the Hole-in-the-Wall gang (or Wild Bunch), which includes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Where did you come up with the idea for this book?

I began with the Four-State Governor’s Pact to eliminate outlaws during the mid to late 1890s. With that premise in mind, I decided that some of the outlaws would stop at an outlying sheep ranch in the middle of a ground blizzard, with a posse in pursuit. I then came up with a feisty little southern woman and her orphaned granddaughter who are awaiting the return of the woman’s husband. I’m a seat of the pants novelist who doesn’t outline, so I just give my characters free rein. I had previously researched a centennial history of central Wyoming, so I was well acquainted with the history of the area and the people involved. And the novel is based on actual historical events and people, primarily Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.

Is there any basis in the gang’s history for this premise?

Yes, they eventually fled the country because war had been waged on all outlaws, and they did rob the Belle Fourche bank in South Dakota, which is the central theme of my book. The young, kidnapped girl listens to the gang plan the robbery and it was actually bungled by alcoholic horsethief, Tom “Peep” O’Day. Following the robbery the girl and the youngest outlaw take horses to Spearfish, South Dakota, in preparation for the gang’s escape from jail. Also, I include a lot information about Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Harve Logan, the main members of the Wild Bunch as well as a ten-page epilogue which details the outlaw’s actual fates.

You’ve done a good job of developing the characters and dispelling the myth that the Sundance Kid was a fun-loving, benign Robert Redford-type. I imagine you did a lot of research about this infamous gang.

Thank you, Heidi. I did a lot of research and make a couple of trips to the old outlaw hideout, The escapefcaltHole in the Wall, in central Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains. There I talked to an old outlaw who had known some of the gang members. He had also talked to Robert Redford back in the 1970s while Redford was researching his book, The Outlaw Trail. I researched in other ways and learned that Harry Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid, was from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and a member of the literary society there before he traveled west to Wyoming. He was a surly character, not the happy-go-lucky- guy portrayed in the film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

I enjoyed the character Tom Peep O’Day, a bumbling drunkard outlaw, who provides humor in the midst of serious danger. Was he a real person?

Yes, he was, and my favorite character to write about. He was lovable in a pathetic sort of way and he nearly stole the book from the other characters.

I was thinking Billy might have been based on Billy the Kid. Is there any basis for my idea?

Billy Blackburn is a fictional character and named for my son, Billy. And Jettie Wilson, the grandmother, was patterned after my own maternal grandmother.

Do you have a long-time interest in writing about history?

I became interested in Wyoming history after moving from southern California to Wyoming during the 1970s. There is such rich history in Wyoming, with the Oregon, California and Mormon trails, the Indian hunting grounds and battles with soldiers, the Pony Express and intercontinental telegraph lines. I wrote a number of books about the area.

Has your background in newspaper and magazine writing helped in researching and writing your books?

Absolutely. I researched my centennial history by reading 97-years worth of microfilmed newspapers for Casper Country: Wyoming’s Heartland, and had so many research notes left over that I used them to write Escape, a Wyoming Historical Novel.

Have you always aspired to be a writer?

I wrote my first novel in fourth grade with pencil on construction paper and took a chapter a day to school to read to my friends. Fortunately, it was never published. I worked as a reporter for my high school newspaper and served as editor in chief of my college paper while a cub reporter for the local daily newspaper. I was a 28-year-old divorced mother of four daughters at that time and often took my youngest to class with me when I didn’t have a babysitter.

Are your non-fiction books mostly on Western history?

Three of my nonfiction books are interviews, the rest are historical. My first book was a collection of interviews with well-known Wyoming residents, including Dick Cheney, attorney Gerry Spence, Governor Ed Herchler, U.S. Senators Simpson and Wallop, Buffalo Bill’s grandson, sportscaster Kurt Gowdy and a number of others.

I understand you have a new novel coming out soon. What are your other novels about?

A Village Shattered, my senior sleuth novel, is the first of my Logan & Cafferty series, which features two 60-year-old widows living in a California retirement village. Dana Logan is a mystery novel buff and her friend, Sarah Cafferty is a private investigator’s widow. When they discover their club members are being murdered alphabetically and the inexperienced sheriff is botching the investigation, they decide to put their crime solving experience to work, but not before Dana’s beautiful daughter is nearly killed in the process. The second novel in the series, Diary of Murder, will be released next spring. I’m also working on a historical novel about the hanging of Cattle Kate as well as a children’s book, The Mystery of Spider Mountain.

Which do you like writing the most-fiction or non-fiction?

I enjoy both but prefer fiction because it’s so liberating and I don’t have to stick to the facts. I have a vivid imagination that conjures up all kinds of problems for my characters. And that’s what novel writing is all about: problem solving.

What is the most important marketing tool you’ve employed?

The internet. You can reach readers all over the world by promoting your work in your pajamas, if you want. There are many author-reader sites online where you connect with people who like to read, such as Goodreads, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.  Twitter is my favorite place to promote books and my blog sites. Blog touring, or virtual book tours, have also become a great way to promote your work. I’m having my own virtual tour from December 1-15 and have set up a special blog site to advertise the schedule. It’s located at:  Everyone’s invited to stop by and sign my virtual guestbook at the bottom of the page. Those who leave a comment are eligible to win one of three of my signed copies of A Village Shattered, or if they prefer, my western historical novel, Escape.

I also have a blog titled, “A Western Historical Happening,” at    My web page is at

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