Jul 09

Oregon Trail Scouts and Tellers of Tall Tales by Jacqui Nelson

J Nelson 10_139It’s my pleasure to welcome Jacqui Nelson back to my blog. She’s a fellow member of the Vancouver Island Chapter of RWA, and a person I’m glad to call my friend.

Thanks for having me as your guest on your blog again, Anna

While doing research for my newly released Western historical romance novel, Between Heaven & Hell, I came across an endless supply of inspiring stories and the people who gave those stories life.

Many inhabitants in the Old West led quiet lives, but some led lives taller than the tallest tale. Sometimes these extraordinary souls couldn’t help spinning their own tall tales to entertain themselves and others.

Born in Virginia in 1804, Jim Bridger—Oregon Trail scout, trapper, trader, Indian interpreter, army officer, and mountain man—was one of those extraordinary souls. JimBridger-young

Bridger’s father was a surveyor and an innkeeper who moved his family to Missouri in 1812. When he was thirteen, Bridger’s family died, leaving him alone in the world. He apprenticed as a blacksmith until at age eighteen a newspaper advert altered his destiny forever.

General William Ashley’s Upper Missouri Expedition was seeking “young men of able body and adventurous spirit” to travel the West and trade with the Indians. Bridger was among the first to respond and be hired.

But Bridger couldn’t read, so he either overheard the advert being read or asked someone to read it to him. This first introduction to the power of words (and having others to read to him) stayed with Bridger throughout this life.

True Life Tall Tales

In 1824, Bridger was among the first European Americans to see the Great Salt Lake and the Yellowstone geysers.

In 1843, he established Fort Bridger in Wyoming as a fur-trading post and a way station for emigrants traveling west on the Oregon Trail.

In 1850, looking for an alternate overland route to the South Pass, he found what would eventually be known as Bridger’s Pass, which shortened the Oregon Trail by 61 miles.

JimBridger-Painting2-CropBiographer Grenville Dodge described him as “over six feet tall, spare, straight as an arrow, agile, rawboned and of powerful frame, eyes gray, hair brown and abundant even in old age, expression mild and manners agreeable. He was hospitable and generous, and was always trusted and respected.”

But despite all those lofty achievements and qualities, it is Bridger’s love of books and storytelling that captivates me most.JimBridger-OlderWithPlaque







Frontier Tall Tales

During his life and long afterward, Bridger was well known as a teller of tall tales. Some of Bridger’s stories like the Yellowstone geysers proved true. And although he may have seen Yellowstone’s petrified trees, his tale about “petrified forests” where “petrified birds” sang “petrified songs” was clearly meant to amuse.

One of Bridger’s favorite yarns for greenhorns involved being chased for miles by a hundred Cheyenne braves only to be trapped in a box canyon with the warriors bearing down on him.

Bridger would then stop talking, prompting his audience to ask, “What happened next?JimBridger-Stamp-Crop

Bridger always replied, “They killed me.”

The “Best” Tall Tale

In 1863, Bridger made the trade of a lifetime: a yoke of cattle worth $125, or almost a month of his wages as an Army scout, for a book.

Not just any book, but one that an army officer had told him was the best book ever written.

But even though Bridger could now speak English, French, Spanish and a dozen Indian languages, he still couldn’t read. So, for $40 a month he hired a German boy to read his new book to him until he could recite it from memory and entertain others with the tall tales of William Shakespeare.

The Tall Tale of a Female Scout on the Oregon Trail

That would be my story Between Heaven & Hell, and my scout would be Hannah aka Blue Sky—a woman with no last name but two first names.

On a trail full of danger, will he guide her to heaven or hell? 

Fort Leavenworth, Kansas – 1850

Hannah knows one thing the moment she enters Fort Leavenworth—she’s arrived in Hell. But inside is the means to a new life, a position as a scout on a wagon train bound for the Western Territories. All she has to do is convince the wagon master, Paden Callahan, she’s the right person for the job.

After his wife was murdered by the Comanche, Paden let his work as a Texas Ranger consume him. Now he wants nothing more than to disappear into the West. Unfortunately, the one man he can’t refuse has asked him to guide a wagon train full of tenderfoots across thousands of miles of Indian land. But Paden’s greatest challenge turns out to be Hannah, a woman his heart won’t allow him to ignore even though she was raised by an enemy he hates.

Between Heaven & Hell – Excerpt

JacquiNelson_BetweenHeavenandHell_800px(Hannah seen through the eyes of Paden Callahan, Texas Ranger turned Oregon Trail wagon master)

Paden Callahan lifted his gaze skyward. High above him, the pale blue arc didn’t even come close to rivaling the eyes of the woman standing beside him. How on earth had she made that shot? He knew only a handful of men capable of the feat she’d accomplished. Most of them were seasoned Rangers. Men from a life he’d left far behind.

He shook his head. A woman couldn’t be a scout. The job was chockfull of hazards. But the competition had been dangerous as well. Why had he allowed her to stand off against a brute like Dawson? Why had he behaved so impulsively?

Dawson looked none too pleased either. He clutched his rifle against his chest in a white-knuckled grip. “If you hire her instead of me, you’ll be sorry.” The scout’s voice was as close to a hiss as any Paden had heard. The man wasn’t going to leave quietly.

Paden suppressed a growl of impatience. He hadn’t shot anyone in years and meant to keep it that way. He strove for an even tone. “I’ve got a whole saddle bag full of sorrys. Adding another won’t make much difference.”

Dawson lowered his spent rifle until it hung by his side. His free hand twitched, inching toward the loaded pistol strapped to his hip.

Paden drew his revolver, cocking it on the upswing and leveling it at Dawson. The feminine gasp close beside him made him freeze. He suppressed the urge to tell her he wasn’t a killer. Why lie? He’d pulled the trigger in the past, and Dawson needed to believe he’d do it again. “Keep the supplies we advanced you. That’s more generous than I have to be. But this is the last time I’ll tell you—leave.”

Dawson slunk off with his two cronies dogging his heels. Paden released the hammer and shoved his revolver back into its holster. Then he spun to face the woman.

This time she didn’t retreat, but every bone in her slender body leaned away from him. He shouldn’t have reached for her earlier when she swayed on her feet. Being almost grabbed by a lout like himself had only added to the storm of emotions he sensed in her: caution warred with curiosity…and something more.

Available in e-book www.amazon.com/dp/B00L3AW2XE and print www.amazon.com/dp/0993638708

What’s your favorite tall tale? Might it even be a Western yarn? I’d love to hear about it!

Jacqui’s Bio

Jacqui writes historical romantic adventures set in the American West and Victorian London. Her love of Western stories came from watching classic Western movies while growing up on a cattle farm. Her passion for Victorian London wasn’t far behind and only increased when she worked in England for four years and explored the nooks and crannies of London on her weekends. She currently lives on the west coast of Canada where she works in a bookstore. Jacqui is a Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® winner and three-time finalist.

Other Books by Jacqui

Adella’s Enemy (a novella) – www.amazon.com/dp/B00EE1UW5E

Passion’s Prize (an anthology with Adella’s Enemy & novellas by E.E. Burke and Jennifer Jake) – www.amazon.com/dp/B00EDSCZK8

Between Love & Lies (2013 Golden Heart nominee) – to be released later this summer.

To learn more about Jacqui and her writing, please visit…






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  1. Jodie Esch

    Wow! That’s a fascinating tale. It’s remarkable that this fellow had such a great facility with languages. And even greater that he was able to find someone to teach him how to read. He sounds like a very unusual man.
    Thanks for sharing an interesting piece of history.

    I enjoy how you weave factual information throughout your historical fiction. That ability makes the reader very involved in your novels.

    Great work Jacqui!

    1. Jacqui Nelson

      Thanks, Jodie! As a historical writer that’s the goal – weaving in the facts (the wonderful plethora of historical gems) while not overwhelming a story that needs to have a life of its own. Thanks for stopping by, Jodie!

  2. Angi Morgan

    How interesting.
    I find the west and exploration fascinating. I think that I’d love to live in the past, a simplier time. ….then I remember how much I like toilet paper. LOL

    1. Jacqui Nelson

      I’m with you, Angi! I often day dream about living in those simpler times, then reality comes crashing in — no hot water for bathing would be top of my list of things I’d miss dearly. Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

  3. Reggi

    Hi Jacqui,
    As I live on the west coast I had heard of Jim Bridger but didn’t know much about him. You made him come to life. Thanks, Reggi

    1. Jacqui Nelson

      Excellent to hear, Reggi! I’m glad I could bring such an interesting historical figure back to life…even if it’s just for one day 🙂 Thanks for visiting my guest blog with Anna!

  4. E.E. Burke

    What a great post, Jacqui. I get so much inspiration from real stories out of history. I don’t have a tall tale, but I used a Cherokee legend about the Redbird in my novella, Kate’s Outlaw. I love weaving in historical events, characters, settings, even legends. Good luck on the trail with your new book!

    1. Jacqui Nelson

      I loved how you used the legend of Redbird in Kate’s Outlaw, Elisabeth! I’m a fan of all the little details that go into making a book feel big – and you do it very well. So glad you could drop by and leave a comment!

  5. Pat Amsden

    What an interesting real life story. Your love of research shines through and you weave fact and fiction together so well to make a fascinating read.

    1. Jacqui Nelson

      Thanks, Pat. I do love history. So glad you could swing by!

  6. Judy Hudson

    Great pictures Jacqui! I love the research involved with writing historicals. Interesting twist making the woman the scout. Look forward to reading it.

    1. Jacqui Nelson

      Glad you liked the pictures, Judy! When I started writing Between Heaven & Hell, I said to myself, “If I were on the Oregon Trail, I’d want to be a scout.” So I had to make my heroine the scout so I could live through her 🙂

  7. Jacqui Nelson

    Thanks for having me as your guest, Anna! And thank you to all those who visited!

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