Wednesday, March 27, 2013

VICTORIANS IN THE AMERICAN WEST



Today, I’m so pleased to welcome author Velda Brotherton to A Writer’s Life. To welcome Velda and readers and as a part of the Fairy Tale Giveaway Hop, I’ll be giving away an e-book of Velda’s latest release, WILDA’S OUTLAW. Talk about a great series, Velda has come up with one that appeals to me. And I suspect the series contains many fairy tales redone with an Old West Victorian flare. Here's Velda to tell us about the background for her first book in the Victorians series, WILDA'S OUTLAW.

The Victorians' Long Road to the American West

By Velda Brotherton

What Englishman George Grant expected to find in Western Kansas when he arrived in Hays City in 1872 was health-giving air. That's what he'd been told. Luckily for the land salesman, it had rained that spring and the endless prairie grasses were tall and green. What Grant breathed when he stepped from the train he later described as champagne air, dry, rarified and invigorating. Since I was raised in Kansas, I'd say he was lucky it wasn't a hot wind swirling dust.

The atmosphere in Kansas may have been pure, dry and exhilarating, but what Grant didn't expect was one of the wildest towns in the West. Its lawbreakers had thoroughly defeated the great Wild Bill Hickok, who as marshal of Hays City had shot up a bunch of soldiers from the Seventh Cavalry stationed at nearby Fort Hays. As a result Hickok was run out of town, leaving it pretty much lawless. Street shootings were a daily event. Calamity Jane was a regular visitor. She could swear, shoot and hold her liquor with the best of men. She was genial and immoral and well liked, and never failed to start trouble the minute she showed up. She enjoyed hurrahing, firing off wild shots and tearing up any saloon unfortunate enough to catch her attention. The infamous Buffalo Bill Cody killed buffalo and peddled the meat from door to door.

Into this atmosphere the ambitious George Grant and his companion and private secretary, a young man by the name of Mr. Edwards, arrived with high hopes of building a new town along the Southern Pacific Railroad. And he had something in mind for making himself a tidy sum of money in the process. The government had given the railroad 20 miles of land along its right-of-way, and the land was for sale. In theory the more towns the railroad served, the more money there was to make.



Grant immediately saw the potential. Though 50 years of age, he was a dignified and vigorous man who carried his six-foot frame gracefully. His head of white hair and full, neatly trimmed beard gave him the appearance of someone of great importance. It was easy for him to sell anything to anyone.

His intent? To form a colony of Englishmen for those young men in England who could not make a living in their own country. Because England was overcrowded with no land available, young men had little future there. Also there were those second and third sons of royalty who could not inherit the family fortune because it all went to the first born son. Their allowances, as we'd call them today, gave them only enough to exist in England. In America they would be able to buy land and to live well. Here they became known as remittance men.

Grant decided to name the colony the Victoria Colony, for the queen. And those who bought land there would continue to keep their English traditions. There would be no going West for these young men. In theory, the families would carry their country to America with them.

The first emigrants set sail aboard the steamship Alabama on April 1, 1873, from the harbor at Glasgow. Mr. Grant and his first colony of Scots and English settlers arrived at Victoria in 1874. In the group were 38 men, women and children and several head of Black and Red Aberdeen Angus Bulls, some sheep, and all supplies that would be needed upon their arrival. The Bulls were later placed on Grant's ranch and used to cross breed the long horn cattle from the area. Victoria became the birth place of the Aberdeen Breed in America, and Grant was credited with creating the breed.

Had the Victorians chosen to homestead, too many rules would apply. Leaving America and going abroad for long visits wouldn't have been allowed and they would have been required to become American citizens. And then there was that British pride. It went against the grain to aggrandize the Yankees. The young men were encouraged to go out and make money, then return to England to spend it. It was believed they would all become rich men at the expense of the Americans.

In this rugged western wilderness, trains ran irregularly and rarely at night for fear of Indian attack. Beyond Hays City the prairies stretched flat and smooth, and empty of human habitation, becoming one with the distant blue sky. On the creek banks, tall crimson grasses waved. Sunflowers grew along the railroad tracks. Antelope and buffalo grazed on the short green grass. Prairie dog towns churned up the earth. Only an occasional barely-livable dugout could be found in a hillside or in the creek banks, rusted stovepipes sticking out of the earth, the only sign they were there.

Lady Godey's Victorian Fashions for 1874
Imagine being kidnapped dressed like this!
Put her on a horse? Well, for a while.
In the first of the series WILDA’S OUTLAW, The Victorians, Wilda and Rowena Duncan and their cousin Tyra arrive a year later. Lured to America by Lord Blair Prescott, who chose Wilda for his bride and promised to care for the other two girls, all orphans. He promised to build a castle for his bride. After a year-long trip by ship, boat, stagecoach and train, the young ladies disembark in Victoria. They are weary, hot and frightened of what might come next, for their train had been robbed by outlaws only a short time before their arrival. This is Wilda's first encounter with the handsome, green-eyed outlaw, Calder Raines. A man she will soon cajole into kidnapping her to save her from the unkind and embittered Lord Prescott.

About the author

Velda Brotherton, Author
Velda Brotherton writes of romance in the old west with an authenticity that makes her many historical characters ring true. A knowledge of the rich history of our country comes through in both her fiction and nonfiction books, as well as in her writing workshops and speaking engagements.  She just as easily steps out of the past into contemporary settings to create novels about women with the ability  to conquer life’s difficult challenges. Tough heroines, strong and gentle heroes, villains to die for, all live in the pages of her novels and books.
  

Thanks to Velda for sharing her story with us today. I love the idea of a series of books in which the main characters are Victorians from the UK who've come to the Wild West. WILDA'S OUTLAW sounds like a book I have to read as soon as possible, so I’ll be toddling off to load it onto my kindle now. I hope you’ll do the same.

Thanks for stopping by!

7 comments:

Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D. said...

What an interesting post. I had no idea that the English tried to establish "English" towns in the Old West. How successful were they in staying "English" and not becoming American?

Caroline Clemmons said...

Velda, thanks for sharing this fascinating story of the Englishmen who wanted a Victorian town in Kansas. I look forward to reading WILDA'S OUTLAW.

Velda Brotherton said...

Stephanie, I might laughingly tell you to read the book, but I'll reveal that this experiment failed, though many of the English remained in the West as westerners while the rest returned to England. Thanks for dropping by.

stacitroilo.com said...

I'm pretty sure I had bridesmaids gowns that looked like those, and I would have been happy to have been whisked away by a handsome stranger to get out of wearing the hideous things! Good luck with your book, Velda!

Sharon Ervin said...

Velda became my hero and one of my favorite authors when I read TRAIL TO FOREVER. Then I met her and became one of her most avid admirers. It's good to see the beat goes on.

Eunice Boeve said...

My daughter and her family used to live in Victoria, now they're in Hays. We're only 60 miles from Hays. On year at a Rotary conference in Hays, a local historian treated us to the story of the English in Victoria. It was a great program. Good luck with your book, Velda, I'll have to check it out.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Velda, thanks for the information. I knew about the cattle but not about the settlement. People do get some strange notions, don't they? But that just makes for interesting storytelling. :)