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.
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.
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"Is that so?” The agent looked
surprised but shrugged his shoulders turning to Gus. "I assume you’re of
"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
"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
“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?"
Winnie sighed and rolled her eyes.
"I'm reading a letter, Essie."
"Oh! Is it from Russell?"
"Yes," Winnie dragged out
the word. She knew any minute her sister would demand to hear what the letter
"How exciting!" She giggled
then called out, "Bettie, Callie, there's been another letter! Come
Winnie did the best to keep her
reaction to herself but she couldn't help the frustrated sigh that escaped her
"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 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
“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
“We don’t know anything about him,”
Bettie said. She tried to smooth things over as she always did. “It wouldn’t be
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?”
Winnie threw up her hands and the
letter fluttered in her grasp. “You aren’t my mother and you can’t tell me what
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
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
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
“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
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".
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"