Today on Blog Tour Tuesday we welcome guest author Jenny Creek Tanner and her new mail order bride book, Homestead HEART: Winnie's Story.
As Winnie Cummins reads the latest letter from Mr. Russell Hanson with her sisters looking over her shoulder, the words "Will you marry me?" make her heart skip a beat. . .But her eldest sister forbids her to marry without a fitting courtship, and they strike a deal that will change all of their lives.
It's 1862, and four orphaned sisters find themselves in the bustling city of Yankton in the Dakota Territory when one of them accepts a marriage proposal from a young man who needs to marry to stake a homestead claim. In this clean Western romance series, author Jenny Creek Tanner weaves a heartwarming tale of the love the sisters have for each other, and the love they find with the rugged men of the homestead prairies of Dakota.
>>>Meet Winnie Cummins. . .
She's traded several letters from Russell Hanson after she answered a mail-order bride advertisement. . .and now he's proposed marriage and agreed to pay her way to travel to Yankton. But Russell doesn't yet know of the deal she had to make with her oldest sister so she could make the trip.
>>>Meet Russell Hanson. . .
He discovered that he needed to be twenty-one years of age before he could stake a claim, but the good land is going fast and he can't wait. With the help of his best friend, he decides to advertise for a young woman willing to marry so they can build a homestead together, and is thrilled when he receives a letter from Winnie. But she hasn't told her sisters the whole story, especially her older sister Callie.
Will Callie forbid Winnie to marry Russell?
Will Winnie defy her sister and destroy the childhood pact they made when their parents died so many years ago?
Will Russell be forced to wait for his 21st birthday before he can stake a claim?
Or will Winnie and Russell find a way to begin their new lives together as husband and wife on a homestead claim?
This book is the first in the series, and can be read as a stand-alone book.
Yankton, South Dakota | June 1862
Russell Hanson walked down the dusty street of Yankton, South Dakota and scuffed his boots against the dry ground. He'd been in town for almost a fortnight and he needed to make a decision. The options were simple: wait at year to turn twenty-one, or get married. The thought of marriage sunk into his gut like a lead weight.
He was only twenty years old, and all he wanted was to claim his land, set up a homestead, and work the land. That had been the plan until he found out that for him, he needed to either be twenty-one years old, or the head of a household to take advantage of the Homestead Act. He groaned at the predicament he’d gotten himself into.
He forced out a loud breath and stepped up on the wooden boardwalk. His boots thumped against the planks as he made his way to the general store in search of his friend Gus.
The door creaked and the scent of grains and spices met him. "Gus?" he called out.
"Back here," his friend answered.
"You ready to head to the claim office?" Russell scratched his stubbled chin and stifled a yawn. Sleeping in a small camp on the outskirts of town was fine for a while, but he was ready to settle down. Now he wasn't sure what that would look like, given that his plan had been put on hold.
"Yeah, just about." Gus ambled out from the store room with a cane at his right side. He seemed to be more stiff than usual.
“Is the leg hurting you worse today?”
Gus grunted his agreement and left it at that. Russell knew better than to push the issue and kept his mouth closed.
The two men made their way out into the warm sunshine and Russell squinted against the brightness. He’d gotten used to the layout of Yankton and already felt more at home here than he had in the last five towns he’d lived in. Though ‘lived in’ was a generous term for what he’d done. Being a cowboy for hire, he’d traveled far to find work. It wasn’t satisfying anymore, though. He wanted to own a piece land. His own home. A place he could put down roots.
They made their way down Main Street to the Claims Office. Russell slowed to match his friend’s slow, stiff pace. As they stepped into the dark, stuffy interior, Russell felt the sting of disappointment again. It was so frustrating to be helpless against making something happen, especially something that had promised to change his life for the better.
"Morning gentleman," the claims agent said. His slithery smile grated on Russell's nerves. "What can I do you for?"
Gus stepped forward and cleared his throat. "I'd like to stake a claim under the Homestead Act.”
"Then you've come to right place," he said. "And what about you young man? Haven’t I seen you in here before?"
"Yes, sir," Russell stepped forward. "I'm not of age yet, unfortunately."
“Ah, yes. Now I remember. Almost a year short of twenty-one.” The agent rubbed his hands together. “Well, there might be something we could do about that."
Russel felt a flicker of hope at the man’s words. "Really?"
“’Course," he grinned." There isn't much a little incentive can't fix.”
A sickening feeling settled in the pit of Russell's stomach. It would be so easy to hand over some cash and achieve his goal, but his conscience pricked at the thought. It wasn’t honest.
"Sorry sir, but I can't do that."
"Is that so?” The agent looked surprised but shrugged his shoulders turning to Gus. "I assume you’re of age then."
"Yes," Gus said.
Russell stepped back and shoved his hands into his dusty trousers as Gus signed the papers and received his land deed. Before long they were back out in the warm breeze, and the hustle and bustle of the town surrounded them.
"So that's that," Russell said.
"Yup," Gus said, surveying the street in front of them. “What are you going to do?"
"Your land," he said it as if it were a matter of fact.
"What can I do? I don't feel right about paying my way through a bribe, but..."
Russell blinked at Gus's bluntness. "You think I should?"
"Why wouldn't you?"
"I don't know." Russell lifted his hat and ran a hand through his hair, mussing it even more. "Hadn't rightly thought about settling down for a few years."
"But that's just what you'll be doing if you get land. You'll be setting up your homestead and I'm sure it'd be nice to have someone to run the land with you."
Russell stared at Gus like he'd sprouted alfalfa out of his ears. "Are you going to get married then?"
"Nah," Gus said looking down at the top of his boots. "I likely won't ever get married, I’m not the type, but you're the kind of guy who could."
Russell let Gus's words sink in. Could he really get married? Would he even be a good husband? If he were honest, he didn't know the first thing about marriage. He'd grown up in an orphanage without a mother or father and the only example of parents he'd had were the pastor and his wife who had come into the orphanage once a week.
"I don't know..."
"What are you waiting for? Put out an advertisement, get a wife, and get a piece of land next to me." Gus broke into a rare smile and punched Russell on the arm.
Russell felt the weight of truth settle into his stomach and he knew what to do.
"I suppose you're right." He looked down the street toward the post office and let out a sigh of frustration.
“Until then, you can stay with me.” Gus said, shoving him in the direction. "Go on.”
Russell nodded once and set off down the street. The dread he felt sank into the pit of his stomach. He was really doing this, he was going to put out an advertisement for a wife and, with any luck, he'd be married within the next few months.
But marriage wasn't the end goal. He wanted his one hundred and sixty acres next to Gus to settle down on. He wanted his own place. A real home. And if that meant getting a wife, then so be it.
New York | July 1862
Winnie Cummins ripped open the letter. Her fingers trembled at what she would find inside.
"What are you doing?"
"Oh! Is it from Russell?"
"Yes," Winnie dragged out the word. She knew any minute her sister would demand to hear what the letter said.
"How exciting!" She giggled then called out, "Bettie, Callie, there's been another letter! Come quick!"
Winnie did the best to keep her reaction to herself but she couldn't help the frustrated sigh that escaped her lips.
"I'm excited to hear what he's said," Essie said. She beamed as she looked up at Winnie.
Winnie had thought the same thing until her sister had invited the whole family to read it with her. Was there no privacy? She had first responded to Russell's interest in a young lady to correspond with him and perhaps be considered for a mail order bride. She knew she was ready to be out on her own, to live her own life. She loved her sisters, but sometimes living with them was overwhelming.
"What is it? Another letter? He sure writes a lot," Bettie said with a gentle smile on her lips.
Winnie was about to defend Russell’s frequent letters, but she was cut off by her sister Callie's sarcasm, "Of course he does, he's like a love sick puppy with eyes for our little Winnie."
Winnie hated when her older sister treated her like a child. She opened her mouth to protest but then closed it again. It wasn't worth the argument she knew would ensue. The presence of the railroad in Yankton had allowed them more frequent correspondence. If they had to rely on the Pony Express, this letter would likely have been his first response.
"Well, go on," Essie said with an expectant look on her face.
"I would if you would all be quiet." Callie gave Winnie a disapproving look but she ignored it. She cleared her throat and read the first line of the letter, “To my dear Winnie.”
“That’s a good beginning,” Bettie said with a twinkle in her eye.
Winnie sighed, “I’ll never get through this letter if you all aren’t quiet.”
“Sorry.” Bettie bit her lip with a sheepish look on her face.
“My dear Winnie,” she began again, “
My dear Winnie:
I received your last letter, and I would like to answer your questions to the best of my ability. I found it harder than I expected to put into words why I love living here. I love the freedom to be and do whatever I want with my life. I have made good, honest friends here and we help each other to survive here on the edge of the new Dakota territories.
Now I find that you are in my thoughts daily, and I am honored and glad that you have expressed an interest in writing me. It is my sincere hope that I am in your thoughts as well, and that my letter finds you well.
I know that we’ve only been writing for six weeks, but I’ve enjoyed your letters and feel as if I’ve known you for six years. This may be forward of me, but I must ask a question for your consideration. Will you marry me?
“What!” Callie exclaimed. Her eyes were as wide as saucers and her checks held a rosy glow. “That’s preposterous! You’ve known the lad for little more than a month.”
“I aim to accept his proposal.” The words were out of her mouth before Winnie had a chance to think or consider their ramifications.
“You’ll do no such thing,” Callie said. She balled her hands into fists and rested them on her hips in defiance of Winnie’s words.
“But why not?” Essie asked. “He seems really nice.”
“We don’t know anything about him,” Bettie said. She tried to smooth things over as she always did. “It wouldn’t be wise.”
Winnie rolled her eyes. “That is simply not true. I know lots of things about Mr. Russell Hanson.”
“But not enough to satisfy me,” Callie said. “It’s final, Winnie, you’re not going to accept such a proposal.”
“You mean not yet, right Callie?” Bettie asked.
Winnie threw up her hands and the letter fluttered in her grasp. “You aren’t my mother and you can’t tell me what to do.”
She stormed out of the room and ran upstairs to the bedroom she shared with Essie. She threw herself on the bed and the tears came instantly. She cried when she was angry, and her tears ran hot down her cheeks. She didn’t bother to brush them away. A few minutes later she heard a knock at the door.
“Winnie, dear,” Bettie said through the door.
She should have known it would be Bettie. “Leave me alone.”
She heard the click of the door latch followed by the creak of the floorboards. Winnie knew she’d feel Bettie’s slight weight on the bed next to her any moment. The gentle hand on her back wasn’t a surprise either. Bettie was the gentlest woman Winnie knew.
“It’s all right dear. Callie just gets…protective.”
Winnie gave a short, humorless laugh.
“I talked with her and she has a proposition of her own.”
Winnie sniffed and sat up, finally brushing away the tears. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Bettie said, smoothing a hand down the front of her dress. “She’ll agree to let you go if…”
“To let me go?” Winnie shook her head. “I’m twenty. I can go with or without her consent.”
“That may be true, but you should consider the effect you leaving like that would have on us all.” Bettie always thought of how things would affect everyone else. “Have you so quickly forgotten our agreement all those years ago?”
Winnie felt a pang of guilt. With the unexpected death of their parents years ago, they had made a pact to stay together. Winnie hadn’t thought that would stop any of them from marrying though.
“Wait dear,” Bettie continued. “Just hear me out.”
“All right. What are Callie’s conditions?”
Bettie took the time to swallow before she answered. “Callie says that you can go if he agrees to take us all.”
“What?” Winnie sat up in a start. She frowned, and her forehead creased in the center.
“She thinks if we would all move out west, we can keep an eye on you two so you can have a proper courtship. Then, when the time is right, you can get married.”
Winnie felt her hands form into fists, but she pushed her temper down. “I’ll think about it.”
“It’s a good idea, Winnie.” Bettie’s voice softened and Winnie thought she saw sadness on her sister’s face. “Just think of it like a fresh start—for all of us.”
Before Winnie could respond, Bettie stood and left. Her words hung in the air, and Winnie rubbed a hand over her face. This wasn’t what she’d expected. Not by a long shot.
She dropped her hand on the bed, and it landed on the letter from Russell. She picked it up and looked back at the uneven script on the dirty paper. With surprise, she realized there was more written on the back of the letter.
I know this may seem very sudden and forward of me, but if I aim to stake a claim with the Homestead Act, I need to be married in order to do it, as I have not reached the age of twenty-one. I hope to start a new life and establish a new home on my land, and I would like you to be part of that new life with me.
Until your next letter, I am Yours Truly,
Mr. Russell Hanson”
Her heart sank. She knew Callie would think Russell was only out to get a wife so he could buy some land, but she knew that wasn’t his only intention. She touched the scrawled signature and smiled. She folded the letter and stuffed it under her side of the bed. She may have to take her sisters to South Dakota with her, but once they were there she would marry Russell Hanson no matter what Callie said. She sat at her bedside table and pulled a sheet of stationery from the drawer.
My Dear Russell,
After prayerful and thoughtful consideration, I am willing to travel to Yankton to meet you. However, my oldest sister has required that if I am to make the trip, they all must accompany me as chaperones, and I must honor her request. . .
About the Author:
Jenny Creek Tanner is a country girl at heart and loves writing romantic stories about the American west of the 1800's. Her favorite stories are about the extraordinary women that became the mail-order brides to men living in the "wild" west, often with nothing more than a few letters on which to make their leaps of faith!
Jenny's books are clean, wholesome romances that tell the stories of intriguing characters as they use their Christian faith and upbringing to overcome the struggles that the people living in the wild west faced on a daily basis.
Jenny loves playing the piano, and her love for music played a big role in her first book, "Music for His Heart".
Jenny's latest series, Dakota Mail Order Brides, is about four orphaned sisters that travel to the Dakota Territory when one of the sisters agrees to be a mail order bride. Each book tells the story of one of the sisters, and the trials and tribulations of homesteading on the prairies of Dakota Territory.
Book 1 - "Homestead HEART: Winnie's Story"
Book 2 - "Homestead FAITH: Bettie's Story"
Book 3 - "Homestead COURAGE: Callie's Story"
Book 4 - "Homestead HOPE: Essie's Story"
Each book can be read as a standalone as well.
And be sure to read the four books in Jenny's bestselling clean western romance series, Mail Order Brides For The Doyle Brothers.
Book 1 - "Hannah: A Bride For Cowboy Warren"
Book 2 - "Lolly: A Bride For Cowboy Benjamin"
Book 3 - "Amy: A Bride For Cowboy Lewis"
Book 4 - "Rosie: A Bride For Cowboy Percy"
Be sure to sign up for Jenny's mailing list at JennyCreekTanner.com/JoinMyList, and be notified of her new releases.
And drop by her Facebook page (Facebook.com/JennyCreekTanner) and say hello!