~ By Shanna Hatfield
I’ve always admired strong, brave women.
Trying to image how hard, how challenging, how utterly soul-wrenching life was for some of our pioneer grandmothers, it is almost beyond my ability to fathom. Believe me when I say I would not have been a good pioneer. I like electricity and an endless supply of steamy hot water too much to try it.
Leaving behind the familiar existence they knew, these women ventured into the west following their husbands, fulfilling requests as mail-order brides, or making their own way as enterprising entrepreneurs.
Because they have won my admiration and respect, I like to write about those types of women in my stories.
The Pendleton Petticoats series is set in the western town of Pendleton, Oregon, at the turn of the 20th century. Each book bears the name of the heroine, all brave yet very different.
During the period of 1900 through 1910, Pendleton experienced a boom in both population and modernization, making it the perfect setting for my series. Although many thought it was a Wild West town (which it was), it was also a very progressive town with a theater, opera house, French restaurant, and tearoom. Pendleton opened a telephone office in 1902 and was the second city in the state to install paved streets in 1904.
The people who inhabited the town were an eclectic mix from every background imaginable. In addition to the sheep growers, wheat farmers, and cattle ranchers who lived in the area, there was a substantial Chinese population. Miners, railroad workers, teamsters, harness makers, Indians from the nearby Umatilla Reservation, and business professionals could be seen walking down the streets of the town that billed itself “the queen of a golden empire – an empire of golden wheat.”
During the early 1900s, Pendleton also boasted 32 saloons and 18 bordellos, making it the “entertainment hub” of Eastern Oregon. The city had an enviable railroad station, designed to handle the burst of growth and export goods from the region including wheat, wool, cattle, and produce.
As I began writing the first book in this series, I envisioned a mail-order bride stepping off the train, completely unprepared for what awaited her. She expected the town to be quiet, dusty, and backward. What she found was something so entirely different than she anticipated, being a girl from Chicago who’d never set foot in a rural area.
She had to be strong and resilient, brave and determined (and maybe a little desperate) to get on that train in the first place.
I’ve often wondered, as a mail-order bride, what was harder – getting on the train and saying goodbye to what they knew or getting off the train to pledge their life to a man they’d never met.
Aundy, the main character (and namesake) of the first book in the series, knows she is physically strong and capable to work on her husband’s farm, but she has no idea of the depths of inner strength and fortitude she possesses until it is tested.
The second book in the series, Caterina, features a feisty Italian girl on the run from the mafia in New York City. Have you ever wondered how many women journeyed out west because they jumped on a train with nowhere else to go? Unlike Aundy who arrived in town as a mail-order bride, Caterina is free and unfettered – or as free as she can be, hunted by powerful men bent on vengeance.
Ilsa shines a light on one girl’s struggle to toss off the fetters of expectations placed upon her as she learns to believe in herself.
Marnie gives us a glimpse into the life of a working girl as she works to overcome the fears of her past so she can embrace the future (and a handsome U.S. Marshal).
And the latest release, Lacy, shows one woman’s struggle to choose between following tradition or following her heart.
Although these are all fictional stories pulled out of my overactive imagination, I like to think that they represent some of the challenges and hardships women faced as they helped shape communities, cities, the west, and our great nation through their determination and strength.
They truly were stronger than they knew and braver than they believed.
Excerpt from Aundy:
“You are one of the most stubborn, hard-headed women I’ve ever met, Aundy Erickson,” Garrett said, running a hand through his hair, sending the dark locks into a state of complete disarray. His movements made Aundy want to run her fingers through it as well. “Your ability to be self-sufficient would never come into question. If you need help, ask for it. We’re more than happy to give it. You’ve been through so much since you’ve arrived here and handled it all in stride. Growing up in the city, without any rural background, you’re going to need some help. Never hesitate to ask.”
“I know, but I’ve imposed on all of you too much as it is.” Aundy felt tears prick the backs of her eyes. She would not cry. Giving in to her emotions, as jumbled as they were, wouldn’t help prove she could care for herself and Erik’s farm. Her farm.
“You’ve never imposed on us. Ever.” Aundy was so obstinate. He couldn’t recall ever meeting such a stubborn, headstrong woman. She made him want to… Thinking about what he really wanted to do, he refocused his attention on why she went to the Underground. “Regardless of all that, what information were you hoping to find?”
“I wanted to buy something and no one would talk to me about it. Dressed as a man, I didn’t have a bit of trouble making the deal.”
“What did you buy?” Garrett tried to think of anything Aundy would have purchased in the Underground that could possibly be beneficial to the farm.
“I don’t think you’re going to like my answer.” Aundy didn’t want to tell Garrett about her sheep. He’d been quite vocal when she and J.B. were discussing the pros and cons of raising sheep the other day, about how much he disliked the “stinky little boogers,” as he referred to them.
“What did you do?” Garrett asked, pinning her with his silver gaze.
“I made arrangements with a man to buy something he wanted, quite desperately, to sell.”
Garrett’s patience was nearly exhausted. “Which was?”
She hesitated, taking a deep breath before answering. “Sheep.”
He let out a whoosh of air and sat back in his chair. Blinking his eyes twice, he was sure Aundy couldn’t have said what he thought she did.
“Did you say sheep?”
“Yes,” Aundy whispered, staring down at the cloth covering the table.
“Smelly, nasty, bleating little sheep?”
“Well, I don’t know about the smelly, nasty, or bleating part, but yes, I did agree to purchase sheep.”
“Woman! What are you thinking? Did you sign papers, make payment? Is the deal final?”
“Not yet. Mr. O’Connell was under the impression I was helping a new widow. I asked him to call Mrs. Erickson Monday morning to make arrangements for the sale.”
“O’Connell? The whiskey drinking Irishman? Why he’ll…” Garrett yelled, his eyes flashing fire.
Aundy reached across the table and clapped a hand across his mouth. “Shh. You’ll have Dent and the boys in here if you don’t quiet down. Not only should you not be here, especially with me dressed like this, but I’m not quite ready to impart the knowledge to them that we’ll soon be raising sheep.”
“Fred will quit.” Garrett stated a fact Aundy already knew. He’d made it perfectly clear that he had no interest in tending sheep, so it was a gamble she had to make.
“I’ve taken that possibility into consideration.”
“Did you also take into consideration that a lot of the neighbors around here hate sheep? Not just dislike them, but hate them. I know many people in the area raise sheep, but our neighbors are all wheat growers and cattlemen. If you think about it, there isn’t one little lamb to be found from here all the way to Pendleton.
What do you think life would have been like as a mail order bride? If it was 1901 and you were desperate to change your life, could you respond to an advertisement for a bride and travel to the “wild west” to become a stranger’s wife? What do you think would be the hardest thing about life then? What do you think would be the most fun?
Join Shanna at her upcoming Facebook party, 2nd Annual Cowboys & Christmas Release Party, on November 12th from 10 am – 2 pm PST.
(Remember, the party runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pacific Time)
Convinced everyone deserves a happy ending, hopeless romantic Shanna Hatfield is out to make it happen, one story at a time. Her bestselling sweet historical and contemporary romances combine humor and heart-pumping moments with characters that seem incredibly real.
When she isn’t writing or consuming copious amounts of chocolate, Shanna hangs out with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller.
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