"Go West, young man!" Horace Greeley's words and Manifest Destiny had many men, both single and with families, heading to western territories of the United States after the Civil War. Land was cheap or even free for the men who'd fought for the Union cause. (Southern soldiers didn't experience the same benefits, but that's another topic for a blog.)
|Oregon Trail ruts near Guernsey, WY|
Wyoming didn't even become a territory until 1868. Even then, the population of settlers was very low. In an 1870 census, only 9,118 were living in the territory. (I couldn't discover if that included marginialized populations like Native Americans or Mexicans.) Towns were very small and very new. For example, Laramie had only 828 residents. Casper isn't even listed with residents on the census until 1890. (http://eadiv.state.wy.us/demog_data/cntycity_hist.htm)
Places like Wyoming and Arizona truly were the last territories for Western Expansion. Settlers could still get cheap land even after Oregona and California were well settled. After 1862, homesteaders could have the land for free if conditions were met by the man--21 years old, settled for 5 years, etc. Still, homesteaders didn't flock to the state but traveled through it to continue to either Oregon or California.
So how did Wyoming eventually become settled by the white population? Two things led to that--the railroad and a large amount of open, public land.
The railroad made travel to the territory easier and safer. Also, railroads were given land by the government on either side of their tracks. They sold this to settlers, often advertising in foreign countries and including the price of travel in the package they sold.
Once people knew that there was a large amount of public land that could be used for grazing, huge herds of cattle were driven up from Texas in the 1870s. This decade was nicknamed "the beef bonanza". (https://trib.com/lifestyles/home-and-garden/wyomings-homesteading-past/article_84f0d5e6-e636-5600-8f44-72d241047a55.html)
I used this research to imagine a small town in Wyoming at the threshold of statehood. Even in 1889, when I set my novel, small towns were popping up. The one in my novel is only four or five years old. It is struggling to establish a local government and people in the area want their first school. It's the reason my heroine goes as both a bride and a teacher to Scrub Brush, Wyoming (a make-believe town based on research).
Here's an excerpt to imagine the scene--
“We need someone quickly!”
Voices rose, seconding that demand. Mayor Boswick Carter stood with his palms facing out, trying to calm the townspeople.
“Every last man here knows we don’t have money to go hirin’ a teacher. Not unless he’ll work for nickels and be willin’ to move from home to home each month.”
Then Boss—as he’d been nicknamed early on by his mother who hated the name her husband insisted on using--looked around the room. “That is, if y’all are willin’ to house him.”
Mutters and shrugs came in response. From the back, a woman stood. A woman! Every one of those gentle critters knew to keep quiet in his meetings.
“Don’t have to be a him. Could be a woman teacher.”
The frustrated mayor sighed and returned to his seat. “Jack, control your woman.”
Jack Fuller rose to stand beside his female, smoothing his sandy colored hair with a trembling hand. “Boss, this is my wife, not just some woman. And, she has a point.”
At his wife’s nudge, Jack added, “With the crops in, not too many months before the snow’ll keep us at home. We need a teacher to set the kids to lessons they can be doin’ all winter.”
From his spot in the front, Boss watched heads turn toward the farm couple. He respected what Jack had to say, even if he thought the man was a little loose when it came to controlling Evelyn, Jack’s wife.
When Boss stared along with the rest of the room, Jack continued in a more confident voice. “Wyoming’s a place that women teachers want to come to, so I hear. ‘Specially if they still let women vote after we’re made a state.”
Boss couldn’t stop the sound from coming out. He snorted derisively at the last bit Jack said. Giving women the vote! Well, that hadn’t happened in Scrub Brush. Not yet. And, if he could do anything as mayor to stop it, it never would.
Evelyn Fuller took offense at the mayor’s snort. He could see the woman bristle, arms akimbo, and sighed. “Yes, Mrs. Fuller, what do you want to say?”
“Well, Mayor Carter, seems the answer to gettin’ a teacher is as easy as orderin’ up one of those mail-order brides. We just need a man to order a woman who’s a trained teacher.”
Sounds of approval rippled through the crowd, encouraging Evelyn. “She could be part teacher and part wife. Havin’ classes for our kids even three days a week’d be somethin’ grand.”
Elmer Dodge, the barber, jumped up as if he’d just landed his backside on a tack. “I propose we order a mail-order teacher.”
“I second that.” Ed Jones, the mercantile owner, hopped up and shook a fist. “I need my wife in the store, not teaching our three.”
Clyde Winters, another farmer, stood. “A good mayor would care ‘bout the families.” Boss heard more than one Amen as people responded to that comment, setting his teeth on edge. He had his livery to run and the smithy. Even so, he set that aside to see to things for the town.
Ed wasn’t done. He hammered a beefy fist into his palm. “We gotta have a teacher for the lil ones. Just cuz you don’t got any kids, don’t mean ya can ignore this, Mr. Mayor.”
That was true. Boss Carter was a crusty old bachelor. Having reached the age of forty last year, he believed he’d never marry. First a lost love and then the need to build his businesses prevented him from finding a wife. Now, he was too set in his ways.
At the back, Evelyn Fuller poked her husband as she whispered frantically. For just a second, Boss was mesmerized by the speed of the woman’s lips as he watched from behind the preacher’s podium.
Imagine living with that nag! It took a great deal of will power to keep from shuddering at the thought.
Jack Fuller jumped to his feet and spoke quickly. “Elmer, you can’t just order up a teacher. She’s gonna have to be someone’s wife. That way we don’t need to house ‘er or pay ‘er much.”
Before Boss could take control, Elmer popped up again. “Well, I’ll just add that to my proposal. We order up a mail-order bride who’s a teacher.”
Clyde jumped to his feet and shouted, “I second it.”
Boss sat back for a moment. It was almost too much, like Elmer and Clyde were actors on a stage. Boss would probably laugh at the scene if he watched it in a play. Here in the church, it annoyed him and wasn’t funny.
Ed Jones heckled from his seat. “Come on, Mr. Mayor. Ya got a proposal afore the town. Let’s vote.”
Weary and audibly groaning at the stupidity of the idea started by Jack’s woman, Boss rose. With his elbows at his side, he motioned with palms downward for the people to be quiet. Wanting to hear what he had to say, they let a blanket of silence fall over them.
Shaking his head as if he regretted what he was forced to say, Boss added a tinge of sadness to his tone. “A town can’t order up a bride, folks. A groom’s the only one that does such.”
He pointed to the back. “The Fullers have a good idea for affordin’ a teacher, but I can’t see how it’d work without a groom for the woman.”
The heckler was at it again. Ed Jones stood and stepped out into the aisle of the small church where the community met. Pointing a finger at Boss, he looked at him meaningfully.
“You was duly elected to serve this town. Well, I see a groom sittin’ in the mayor’s chair!”
Typical of Clyde Winters, he had to add his two cents to this mess. “You been complaining ‘bout makin’ meals and such. Wantin’ a housekeeper, you said.”
The man paused to look around the room, as usual wanting to make sure all eyes were on him. “Well, here’s the perfect solution. Make sure you ask for a woman that can both teach and cook.”
This farce wasn’t over. Elmer popped up. “I want to add that to my proposal. We need to order a mail-order bride for Boss Carter. One who can teach and cook.”
Of course, Clyde seconded the proposal. Again. Before he sat down, he added, “It’s not like you got lots of prospects.”
Now it was getting personal! Boss needed to put the brakes on this mess. Okay, he did get mighty lonely on winter nights and a companion would go a long way in easing the ache of being alone.
Still standing, he cleared his throat loudly. Voices continued to buzz in the room. He held his arms in front of him, palms out. The noise actually rose in volume with people ignoring his gesture.
They were stirred up, sure as shootin’. These were his people, and more than anything, Boss loved this town that had become a sort of family for him.
Elmer suddenly spoke above the noise. “Clyde, what’s to keep the woman from leavin’ once she gets here?”
Opinions flew around the room. Boss held his head and groaned. Then he looked out at the crowd and lifted his hands to settle the people. It didn’t work.
Not able to calm the people, Boss walked to Elmer and motioned for him to come out into the aisle. When he did, Boss whispered to him. The barber motioned for Clyde to join them, and the mercantile owner moved quickly, not wanting to be left out. Boss spoke in a low tone to both men, and Clyde let out a loud whoop.
That sound created a wave of curious murmurs before a sudden hush descended on the church. Rather than letting Boss make the announcement, Elmer spoke. Satisfaction beamed from his round face.
“No votin’ tonight, folks. The mayor’s agreed to place the advertisement for a proxy teacher-bride. Wants to do it of his own free will, kind of as a favor to the town. He’ll get her married to him before she comes.”
The idea of a proxy bride stumped many in the crowd. Faces turned in question to their neighbors. Boss cleared his throat meaningfully and lifted his hands, palms outward.
“Proxy just means she won’t take my money for a ticket and not come. And, she can’t leave once she step off the train if the woman don’t like the looks of our town.”
A cheer chorused from the thirty or so people gathered. The sound nearly raised the roof off of the simple wood-framed building. Reverend Jackson actually seemed worried about the noise. Boss noted that as he smiled inwardly at the man’s expression.
Then the import of what he’d agreed to hit the mayor. Why should the preacher be worried? He wasn’t the one who agreed, moments before, to marry a stranger sight unseen.
From the bestselling author of Ruby’s Risk comes a fast-paced and suspense-filled romance that's currently the #1 new release on Amazon in Western Religious Fiction.
Frances "Frankie" Elder is brutally frank. It's what led to her firing by the school board. The advertisement for a bride/teacher seems heaven sent. The fact that her groom demands a proxy marriage doesn't faze her. She was already sure this would be a business arrangement rather than a real marriage.
On her way from Wisconsin to Wyoming, Frankie stops in Chicago to buy warmer clothing. Instead, she ends up with a child. What's a woman to do? She's longed for a little one. Besides, the girl clings to her, craving love. But will her husband find the girl as irresistible as she does?
Boswick "Boss" Carter is the first mayor of Scrub Brush, Wyoming. When the town demands a teacher, he agrees to send for a mail-order bride who's a trained teacher. Winter nights are lonely and he's a terrible cook. This will solve both his problem and the town's.
To be sure the woman doesn't cheat him out of the cost of a ticket, he demands she marry him by proxy. Of course, he doesn't bother taking part in a proxy ceremony. That way he can decide if he'll keep her.