It’s not so strange that living in a new place can affected our imaginations. Several years ago my husband, Bud, and I moved out west. From Kansas to California we visited many historical sites and wondered especially how the women and children sufficed the sometimes desperate conditions of the frontier. Since most of the stories were about men, we began scrutinizing the journals and letters by women and children from the 1840s to the 1880s. The French Lady’s Cowboys and Auspicious Dreams were spawned by many of these true stories.
In Auspicious Dreams, Sarah Margaret Lovelace wore her father’s trousers, held up by a blue satin ribbon to do farm work in Sacramento in 1845—ten years before Angèle Morisot disguised herself as a boy to escape a ruined life in France to join America’s Great Western Migration.
In 1848 Sarah Margaret’s older sister condemns the frontier life she’d escaped from by asking Sarah Margaret, “Whatever do you know about happiness?”
Sarah Margaret quickly admonishes her. “Look at this place. We have been here almost three years and there is nothing I cannot do on this farm. I cleared the land, planted it, irrigated it, cultivated, and protected it. I can cut and stack hay, fall trees, skid logs, and build fences. I can raise chickens, pigs, goats, and cows. Papa taught me to set and tend traps. Mama and I put up jars of pickles, tomatoes, beets, onions, catsup, and jam. I can roast venison on a spit and dress a roast to befit the finest celebration. And when all the work is done, I feel great satisfaction and delight to roll in a field of flowers, or take a ride up to the hills and canyons of the Sierras. So don’t try and tell me about happiness!”
In The French Lady’s Cowboys, Angèle Morisot’s life wasn’t as easy as Sarah Margaret’s. In 1862 Angèle’s sister-in-law asks if she’s strong enough to join Angèle and her husband, Tom, in Nebraska Territory.
Angèle responds, “I can’t answer that. I had no idea I could be who I am now. A year-and-a-half ago, I couldn’t fight off a soft, French gentleman. Six months later, I drove a remuda across the plains, killed seven Indians, and did most of the work to finish driving the cattle and horses to the ranch. I’ve learned to rope, castrate, and brand cattle, deliver calves...and I love it and all the men I’ve been working with. Most of all I’m free of oppression by men, even if the day might come that I have to use my guns to defend myself. I’m as free as any man, and Tom likes me that way.”
These strong women helped win the West as much as the 1873 Winchester rifle did. But don’t be fooled by these courageous young women who took on “mens” work to survive. They were proud and happy with their lives. They loved their men and their men stood beside them, encouraged them, and together chased their dreams in the Promised Land.
Auspicious Dreams and The French Lady’s Cowboys are revised editions of the stories written during the time Bud and I lived out our own western dream in Wyoming and California—one hundred and fifty years after Sarah Margaret Lovelace first stepped foot on the Oregon Trail and one hundred and thirty-four years after Angèle Morisot boarded a vessel in France to sail into a new life in America.
Both books have been published in paperback for the first time. (And just might make a great gift set for the upcoming holidays.) They are also available as E-books. Look us up on Amazon and take a step back into history.