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: www.jeanhenrymead.com

Her blogsites: http://mysteriouspeople.blogspot.com/

http://theviewfrommymountaintop.blogspot.com/

http://writersofthewest.blogspot.com/

http://murderousmusings.blogspot.com/

http://makeminemystery.blogspot.com/

A Sweet Addiction to Hairspray & Horses

“You have to love travel, wear more makeup than a clown, and have a sweet addiction to hairspray,” Carolyn Hunter quips about the requirements for becoming a Rodeo Queen. But it’s much more than that.

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Carolyn, the Sedro-Woolley WA Rodeo Queen and her sister, Amanda Hunter, Miss Pro West Rodeo. These young ladies are not just pretty faces. They are both expert horsewomen, have a great deal of poise, and stand as an example for young girls.

The competition for Rodeo Queen is not a beauty contest. Carolyn and Amanda explain that every contestant has to perform a specific horsemanship pattern on their own horse plus ride a newly-assigned pattern on a horse they’ve never ridden. They also answer a slate of oral questions and take a written test on horse and rodeo knowledge, submit to a personal interview, and deliver a prepared speech. Some pageants last just one day and others are a week long, Carolyn says.

Girls can compete in other towns or states for the title, depending on each rodeo association’s guidelines. Amanda says she was an Oregon queen at one time. The title and job is for one year.

The Hunter sisters, who were raised with horses,started out in 4-H, competed in barrel racing and gymkhana. They got into the Queen arena after an older sister qualified as a Rodeo Princess in 2000. “We tried out too, won a couple,” Carolyn says, and they were hooked. Twenty-two-year-old Amanda has been competing since she was 18, and Carolyn, 20, has been involved since she was 15.

The job does require a great deal of travel. “We are the PR agents, the face of the Association,” Amanda says of her position with the Pro West Rodeo Association. “But I get to hang out with the competitors (at rodeos) and have a good time.” She travels mostly in Washington, but also some in Oregon and Idaho.

Carolyn is the “promoter and sponsor for our own rodeo (the July 4th Loggerodeo in Sedro-Woolley), so we speak at various organizations and attend other rodeos (throughout the state).”

When she retires her crown, Amanda plans to return to her studies in anthropology and environmental/geography at Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

Carolyn is a Skagit Valley College graduate and a teacher education student at Western Washington University in Bellingham. When her reign is over, she wants to compete for Miss Rodeo Washington and Miss Rodeo America.

“I’ve always related to horses,” she says. “I don’t know what life would be like without them.”

See Amanda’s bio and photo at the Pro West site.

A Dream Worth Having

My guest today is first-time novelist, Catherine Madera, author of Rodeo Dreams. This story is about fifteen-year-old Cindy Crowe, who adopts a mustang and pursues a dream of barrel racing fame. If only she can keep from being distracted by disappointment, rhinestoned rodeo queens, and a certain cute bull rider. Ultimately, Cindy discovers that any dream worth having has the power to break your heart…and change your life forever.

Catherine, this is a wonderful story for adults as well as young adult readers. Tell us what inspired you to write this book.

In 2004 I read the young adult book, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Even at 32 years old I found the book delightful—fun and heartfelt. It reminded me of being a teenager and the importance of friendship. Though I’d never thought of myself as a fiction writer, I thought that if I ever did write fiction I’d want it to be something like the Pants books. I loved the classic horse stories as a child and worked to create an intriguing story that combines elements I never grow tired of: the drama of pursuing a dream and friendship (between humans and also human/horse friendships). My protagonist is a teen but I wanted to write a story I would enjoy reading.

How did you come up with the title and the theme? (Great minds think alike!)

Yes they do, Heidi! I love cowboy/girl culture and rodeo. And fighting for a dream is a universal theme that is endlessly fascinating to me. As to title, nothing else came to mind at the time. Shortly after I began writing, however, I had what I now call a “T-shirt from God” moment. I’d been feeling discouraged with my first attempts to write the story and that old negative voice we all fight with was berating me for wasting time on the thing. I remember a conversation I had with God that said, in essence, “What’s the use?” That very day I went into town and stopped at the feed store to buy a couple items for my small farm. I took a few extra minutes to look through some clothing that was on sale. My mouth dropped open when I pulled out a shirt that had a vintage rodeo cowgirl on the front wearing red boots. In rhinestones underneath it said, “Rodeo Dreams.” I bought the shirt. It may sound weird but at that moment I felt God’s encouragement to keep going.

Wow. That is so cool! I love anecdotes like this.

Have you always been a writer?

I was always an avid reader and enjoyed writing poetry, etc. in elementary school. I knew I wanted to be a serious writer when I worked on the school paper my senior year in high school. For many years after, I dreamed about becoming a journalist—flying to the scene of exciting stories and meeting interesting people.

What was your first published piece and when?

My first published piece was an essay for the now out of print Victoria Magazine in 2000. It was called “Horse Heaven.”

You’ve written many essays and non-fiction magazine articles. How did you get started in this writing arena?

In 2004 I won a national contest for Guideposts Magazine (one of fifteen women nationwide out of 3,000 entrants) and had a remarkable, intensive, all expense paid five-day trip to Rye, NY to learn to write inspirational non-fiction stories. That experience changed my life and birthed my freelance career. Most of what I know about story telling I learned from Guideposts. I still write for the magazine and other non-fiction publications.

Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer (though I sometimes wish to be an outliner!). I work from a general idea of major events in a story but no firm idea of how I’ll get from one scene to the next. My characters constantly surprise me!

Have there been other authors or books that have influenced you?

An important early influence was my first editor at Guideposts, Jim McDermott. He taught me so much about the elements of story. The books that have helped me the most include: Writing for the Soul, by Jerry Jenkins; Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott; and On Writing, by Stephen King. Very recently I also read Donald Millers outstanding new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It has great wisdom for writers about how to create a great story as well as inspiration for life. I also consider the northwest writer Sibella Giorello (The Stones Cry Out/The Rivers Run Dry/The Clouds Roll Away) an important mentor and friend in my writing life. The encouragement of those a bit farther along the road is critical.

You are a cowgirl in your own right. Did you grow up riding and barrel racing or is this a recent development?

I grew up with horses and have done lots of different types of riding. However, I’ve never barrel raced! In a curious twist of life imitating art, my eleven-year-old daughter has become serious about the sport of barrel racing. She takes lessons on her Quarter Horse, Cowboy, and we do local shows and 4H. She would like to do junior rodeo in the future. I own an Arabian stallion named Eli and enjoy dressage and trail riding.

How do you think your childhood background has influenced your writing?

I moved around as a child…a lot. Seeing many different places/people perhaps inspired my curiosity and fascination with people’s stories. I also grew up in a home where books and reading were very important. My father, especially, encouraged a love of good writing.

You decided to self-publish your book. Tell us what influenced this decision and what your experiences have been in doing this project.

I spent about four years editing the story, submitting it to contests and my critique group, and pitching to agents and such at writer’s conferences. I received enough positive feedback to feel like I had something worthwhile. Unfortunately, it was bad timing in the publishing industry. I knew that, regardless of my solid experience writing non-fiction, I’d have a tough time getting an agent. I’d always thought self publishing fiction, in particular, was a bad idea. “Kiss of death” were the exact words, as I recall. However, God seemed to have other plans for me. He very definitely gave me direction to self publish and put the people in my path to help. Most notable, perhaps, was my graphic artist, Karen Bacon. From the beginning, Karen “got” my vision and I love what we created together. I also opted to use a printer, not a vanity press. This kept my printing cost down and also got the book into the major distribution channels immediately and with almost no effort on my part. Self publishing can be a confusing maze of choices and options with numerous pitfalls and ways to waste your money and compromise your copyright. I feel blessed that my experience has been extremely positive and low/no risk.

What are you doing to market Rodeo Dreams?

Good question! I have been pretty low key but am selling the book slowly and steadily through word-of-mouth, Amazon/Barnes, and also in a couple niche stores in the area. I am getting the book in front of my target audience through groups like 4H and horse expos/events. I am also interested in presenting the book at elementary schools and am looking into ways to do this. As every serious writer knows, marketing these days is almost exclusively up to the author whether you go through a traditional publishing house or produce the work as I have. It can be tough but also a good opportunity to learn and grow.

Are you working on another fiction project?

Yes. I am working on a sequel called Rhinestones. In addition, I’m about a third of the way into a work of women’s fiction.

Here’s a fun question for you: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you have to have? Assuming I can’t have my husband, Mark (thinking deserted), I’d need good coffee, my Bible, and my Smart Wool socks/long underware for potentially cold days. I hate being cold!

Catherine, thank  you so much for sharing your publishing story with us.

Rodeo Dreams is available on Catherine’s website, The Writer’s Way, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Women’s History Month

Because March is officially Women’s History Month, I want to take the opportunity to honor my grandmother, Olive May “Tootsie” Bailey Gasser. She was the inspiration for my novel, Cowgirl Dreams, and most likely contributed genes to my strong, independent spirit.

She was the consummate horsewoman and much preferred to be out riding than in the house pushing a dust mop. The thing about her that inspired the book was the fact that she rode steers in rodeos during the 1920s. I love knowing that about her!

What a legacy our foremothers left us.

Published in: on March 19, 2010 at 6:02 pm  Comments (5)  
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Women Writing the West

WWW LogoI just returned from my annual Women Writing the West Conference, this year held on the UCLA campus. This was an out-of-the-ordinary venue with an emphasis on screenwriting, cultural presentations such as “Homelands: How Women Made the West,” from the Autry National Center Traveling Exhibit, and “Untapped Treasures: Tips From California’s Leading Archivists,” tours of Hollywood and the Getty Museum.

We also had opportunities to meet one-on-one with agents, publishers, and marketing coaches, attend workshops on marketing, boosting creativity and panels on what agents and publishers are looking for.

We honored the winners of our literary contest, the WILLA Awards, and listened to readings from their wonderful works.

All of these wonderful events aside, what I take away from these gatherings is the richness of friendship and the warm, supportive generosity of the women (and men too) in this organization. I’ve forged lasting relationships with fellow writers through the years and look forward each fall to making new friends.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Scott (B.J. Scott) who has written The Angel Trilogy, books about women of the Gold Rush, with enough action and adventure to satisfy men readers as well. WWW is “international” with our members from Canada, Hope Morritt and her daughter, Lynn. I was delighted to meet Marcia Meredith Hensley from Wyoming, WILLA Award-winning author of Staking Her Claim: Women Homesteading the West. And so many more–I could go on and on. Thank you all!

Women Writing the West is open to women and men who live and write in the west (members don’t necessarily have to write in the Western genre) or to authors who live anywhere in the U.S. and write about the West. The WILLA Award (named for Willa Cather) are open to any published book set in the West with a strong female protagonist. We are authors of contemporary as well as historical fiction, romance, mystery, and poetry. We also sponsor the LAURA Award for short fiction, named for Laura Ingalls Wilder.

It is a rich and diverse group, and I’m proud to be a member.

Published in: on September 16, 2009 at 9:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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Nettie Wears Pants in a Rodeo

My character, Nettie, from my novel Cowgirl Dreams donned a pair of her brother’s denim pants, sneaked out of thecowgirl-dreams-cover house one morning and rode in a neighbor’s informal rodeo. She loved the freedom of riding her horse Toby wearing pants and especially riding the steer in the rodeo. The adrenaline of staying on the back of that bucking, twisting, angry beast had her hooked and the clothing allowed her to ride unencumbered by the extra fabric of a skirt, divided or not.

But, when she arrived home, her mother was horrified to see her daughter dressed as a man. And having heard that Nettie’d ridden in the rodeo against her wishes, Mama was highly upset.

“You.” Mama stepped forward, her face dark red with anger. “You defied me.”

Cold dread pooled in Nettie’s belly. She’d never seen Mama so mad. “No, I—”

“Young lady, you were supposed to stay home today. Work on that pile of darning. You know Mrs. Connors wants it done by tomorrow, otherwise we don’t get paid till next week.”

The darning. She hadn’t given it another thought after she’d decided to sneak out. Oh dear. Icy prickles of guilt stabbed athher. “But. Lola. Why couldn’t she finish it?”

Mama stepped closer. “And, we had to hear it from the neighbor’s hired man. You. Rode. In. A rodeo.” With each woword, she jabbed her finger an inch from Nettie’s face. “You know how I feel about that.”

“But, Mama, I stayed on. I didn’t get bucked off.”

“Don’t you sass me, girl.” Mama’s voice shook now. “And wearing pants in public, too.” She closed her eyes a moment and sighed. “You will take that basket of socks, go to your room, and don’t come out until they’re all finished. No supper. No No riding. For a month.” She turned on her heel and stalked out of the kitchen.

At the door, Mama stopped. “And, for heavens sake, take that filthy red rag from around your neck and wash it.”

Published in: on January 23, 2009 at 3:37 am  Comments (4)  
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The Cowgirl Behind Cowgirl Dreams

A clipping from the Sunburst Sun (Montana) newspaper, Aug. 26, 1922 reads:

Program

olive-m-tootsie-gasser-cowgirl1:00 Parade of cowboys and cowgirls, headed by Cut Bank brass band

2:30 Tootsie Bailey will enter competition with entire field, riding wild steers with only one hand in cirsingle

Tootsie was my grandmother and she would have been 17 at that time.

Another clipping states “Tootsie Bailey won first and Mary (Marie) Gibson second prize in the steer riding.”

cowgirl-riding-steer2

Published in: on January 6, 2009 at 5:36 am  Comments (5)  
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Cowgirls Don’t Cry

by Heidi M. Thomas

As the popular country song says, Cowgirls don’t cry. Even when they’re bucked off a nearly-half ton of fanniel-sperry-steele1angry muscle and bone–a wild steer, a bull or a bronc.

As I researched my novel, Cowgirl Dreams, based on my grandmother in the 1920s, I found a theme of courage as well as competitiveness. I’m in awe that someone as petite as Grandma (5-feet, 2 inches and 102 pounds) would even consider pitting her strength and skill against such a large animal whose goal is not only to get that foreign weight off its back, but also (in the case of a steer or especially a bull) try to stomp on the rider once she’s down.

But she wasn’t the only one. Most cowgirls of that era were not of average height. Annie Oakley and Lucille Mulhall (first to be dubbed “Cowgirl” by Teddy Roosevelt) were just five feet. Other top riders, Mable Strickland,Tad Lucas, Fox Hastings and Ruth Roach were about 5-feet, 3 inches, and Florence Hughes Randolph was only 4-feet, 6 inches.

And those intrepid Cowgirls rode with injuries–taped ribs, casts, bruises–just like their male counterparts.

Fox Hastings who began rodeoing about 1916, was once thrown from her horse and then it fell on her–twice. Her neck appeared to witnesses so twisted they feared it was broken. She was carried from the arena. But about 15 minutes later, she rode back to the judges stand in an open car and asked for a re-ride. She got it, rode to the end, and dismounted on her own. Only when out of sight of the crowd did she collapse.

Tad Lucas was one of the most famous trick riders. At the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, when going under her horse’s belly, Tad slipped. She hung there, her horse kicking her with every step as he kept galloping around the arena. Finally she was able to roll free, ending up with a badly broken arm. At first the doctors wanted to amputate. She said, “Absolutely not.” They told her she’d never ride again. Within a year, she proved them wrong, riding with her arm in a cast.

bonnie-mccarroll-thrown-from-silver-1915-fsdm2_md1Marie Gibson, a Montana cowgirl with whom my grandmother competed, went to London with Tex Austin’s troupe in 1924. The first week out, she dislocated her knee, had it wrapped and came back later for trick riding. But when she stepped off the horse, she felt it go again. The doctor reset it, and told Marie to lay off. She did-for two days,then rode again. Marie had to have help saddling and mounting and had to be carried from the stadium, but she kept coming back.

Marie was killed in a freak accident in 1934 when a pickup man’s horse collided with hers. Several other cowgirls met their end at rodeos, including Bonnie McCarroll at the 1929 Pendleton Rodeo. But nothing would  stop the cowgirls’ dreams. They had to compete, to feel the exhilaration of the ride, and the thrill of winning.

That’s why cowgirls don’t cry. At least until they’re alone.

©Heidi M. Thomas 2008

Published in: on November 21, 2008 at 4:01 am  Comments (2)  
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