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