The Gold Rush and Western Travel

My latest Proxy Bride book released recently. Some of what inspired by a recent trip to hike in Death Valley which gave me so many ideas!! Have you ever heard of the California 49ers? Yes, they are a sports team, but it also refers to the peak year of influx of people moving to California searching for gold (1849). One group who were looking for a shortcut to the gold fields got a wee bit lost and ended up wandering around the desert for a couple months. Finally they burned their wagons and ate their oxen and walked out on foot. Death Valley National Park has several monuments to their adventures and losses. I can’t even begin to imagine how terrifying that must’ve been! At least that story has a happy ending (except for the oxen).

The trains only went so far West but were a whole lot faster than travelling by wagon. You could get almost halfway across the country in a week by the late 1840s. But then, if you didn’t get lost, it would take about another month to get all the way to California from New York or Boston.

The California Gold Rush brought a sudden influx of gold into the money supply and reinvigorated the American economy. The population boom vastly altered California, leading it to become a state in 1850. Agriculture and ranching expanded throughout the state to meet the needs of the settlers. Roads, churches, schools, and other towns were built throughout the state.

Hamilton, the groom in my story, made his wealth through some of these exploits. It’s quite fascinating to read about the massive shift in fortunes during the 40s and 50s. We’re so used to stores, and roads, and hotels today. People must have been truly intrepid back then!

Tell me, would you have liked to explore the new world back then?

Mail Order and Proxy Brides – Why?

As you hopefully know, I am writing in the Proxy Brides multi-author series. My fourth in that series just released. There are only so many reasons for becoming a mail-order or a proxy bride, or are there? I needed to do some research 🙂

Wives WantedOne of the most basic reasons that men tried to find spouses through the mail during the nineteenth century was because of an imbalance in the gender ratio. There were many factors that contributed to this imbalance, ranging from the California gold rush, to the American Civil War, to westward expansion. The first significant event to contribute to the unbalanced gender ratio was the discovery of gold in California in 1848. It inspired many a man – both domestic, and international – to head to the American West in an attempt to find his fortune.

Many pioneers were disappointed to discover that all of the easily-accessible gold had already been panned. After investing extensive time and money to travel by ship, wagon, or railway, however, they were not about to head back home. As the 19th century progressed, pioneers headed into the mid-West and West in search of gold, natural resources, open land, and a fresh start. Some were coming from the eastern portion of the United States, but others came from foreign countries. Between 1850 and 1890 approximately 7.5 million European immigrants traveled to the United States, a portion of them settling on farms in the western part of the country. Due to the demanding nature of farming, some men sought to marry and have children who could help them to establish and maintain a farm. For others it was particularly significant to marry and have children so as to carry on the family name.

There were plenty of other reasons that men of the West wanted to marry. Some men desired a spouse because they were lonely, some needed money, and still others hoped for someone who shared their cultural background. It is important to note that while there were not as many white women in the American West, there was not a total absence of women. Indigenous women were, of course, present in the American West, and some pioneers formed relationships with them. Statehood advocates feared that inter-racial marriages would not count as “civilized behavior” and therefore threaten the possibility of transitioning from territory to statehood. Many Americans expected that the presence of (white) women would help to civilize the Wild West by replacing alcohol, gambling, and prostitutes with schools, and churches.

Just as the West drew men with the promise of opportunity, fortune, adventure, and a new beginning, it also did for women. In many cases marriage provided a literal ticket for a woman to go West and seek a better life. Other women also found that the mail-order method of match-making allowed them to pursue ambitions of their own, such as greater personal autonomy.

Some western states made a deliberate effort to encourage the migration of women by promising them liberal women’s legislation. In 1849, for example, California legislators crafted a state constitution that defied the tradition of coverture law. That is, the Constitution allowed women to retain ownership of their property upon marriage. Henry Halleck helped craft the Constitution, and he explained the end of coverture as a means of attracting single women to settle out west. Here’s what he said: “I do not think that we can offer a greater inducement for women of fortune to come to California. It is the very best provision to get us wives that we can introduce into the Constitution.” Kansas (1855), Oregon (1857), and Nevada (1864) also eliminated coverture laws with the intention of drawing women to their states. Since western legislation promised women autonomy, and western men offered marriage, independent women could achieve the former by agreeing to the latter as mail-order brides.

In addition to its favorable property laws for women, California offered women the legal right to initiate divorce. Presuming that women outside of California were aware of this law, it made marriage to a man met through the mail a slightly less risky proposition – if the marriage turned sour, women had legal rights to leave it.

States also wooed women to traverse the country with the promise of suffrage. In 1869 Wyoming became the first state to allow women the right to vote. Utah (1870), Washington (1883), Montana (1887), Colorado (1893), and Idaho (1896) followed suit, all promising women suffrage prior to their East Coast counterparts.

Some women became mail-order brides not to advance their position or pursue their own goals, but simply to survive. Women often depended upon men in their lives to provide for them economically. Losing a husband to death introduced an economic vulnerability. Having to provide for children after the death of the breadwinner only exacerbated economic woes.

The death of men in the Civil War only compounded the gender ratio imbalance that the resource rush to the West had begun. Between 1861 and 1865, nearly three million men fought in the War. One in five would die. Many others survived but came home grievously injured. The death count alone, though, was equivalent to approximately two-and-a-half percent of the general American populace. Although this might not sound significant enough to threaten women’s marriage prospects, the average age of a Union soldier was 25.8 years old – prime for marriage, therefore the one in five was concentrated among eligible men. As such, many women feared that with the new scarcity of men, they would end up spinsters.

So, as you can see, there are many reasons why women would marry a stranger, one they may not have met or maybe only by mail. If you haven’t read all of my Proxy Bride books, now might be a good time to check them out 😉

The Westbound Surge

I’ll be writing in another multi-author project next year which will be set in the 1880s. This is very “modern” for me and the research has been fascinating. Up until now, all my books have been either set in Regency era England (1805) or the American Midwest from 1855-1865. With the 1880s comes more technology, more developed towns and cities in the West, as well as opening up the possibility of setting some stories in Canada (where I’m from).

The rapid development of technology spurred the population growth of North America as well as the westward movement of people. The ability to more easily communicate made the expansion of business also possible. And “rapid” transportation meant you could travel all across the continent in less than ten days. In fact, in 1876, the Transcontinental Express from New York to San Francisco made the trip in 83 relaxing, comfortable hours. Imagine! Three and a half days! That really shrank the world for people of that time. Of course, the poor, penniless, mail order bride couldn’t afford that ticket, but even she could reach her new life in a week or less, depending on her destination.

The consolidation and reorganization of the railroads in the late 19th century lead to rapid industrial growth in many areas including the opening of hundreds of millions of acres of very good farm land ready for mechanization, lower costs for food and all goods, and a huge national sales market. Of course, all this growth and prosperity didn’t benefit everyone. While the average annual wage for an industrial worker rose by 48% between 1860 and 1890 (from $380 to $564), there was still abject poverty and inequality leading to contentious social issues. And the ability to travel broadened people’s knowledge and perspective, making them more involved in these various struggles and triumphs.

Railroads were the major growth industry, with the factory system, mining, and finance increasing in importance. Immigration from Europe, and the eastern states, led to the rapid growth of the West, based on farming, ranching, and mining. The rapid economic growth in America also fueled this influx of millions of European immigrants, especially due to the wage increases making the opportunities seem so very attractive to these new comers.

I’m thrilled with the research I’ve been able to do and am overwhelmed with story ideas for this exciting time period in history.

Stay tuned for more book news. In the meantime, have you read my other westerns?

Eating Out in 1850s America

proxy 3 w m andrewsIn my latest Sweet, Historical, Western Romance (A Bride for Alastair), my characters are returning to Boston after an extended stay in Missouri. They, of course, hadn’t left any food supplies in the house, except a few dried goods like tea, as they weren’t sure how long they’d baway. In those days, although the arrival of the rails had greatly sped up travel times, it still took at least a week to make the trip one way. But that doesn’t change the fact that you gotta eat.

Interestingly, the word restaurant, from a French word, only applied to eating establishments serving French cuisine. Most famous in the East is Delmonico’s in New York which opened  in the 1830s. But aptly named “eating houses” also existed, besides saloons, as well as street vendors. The further West one travelled, the more people had to rely on eating “out” as fewer people had homes. By the time one got as far as San Francisco, nearly everyone ate in restaurants most of the time as so many were living in tents or hovels. This led to cooks coming from all over the world and created a diverse eating experience. The first three Chinese restaurants in the United States were opened in San Francisco in the 1850s.

Hotels served food, of course, to their patrons. In order to protect respectable woman from unwanted advances, a separate dining space in large hotels called a ladies’ ordinary was set aside for families or ladies travelling alone. At this time, women were not permitted to dine alone or unaccompanied by a male escort in restaurants and the public rooms of luxury, urban hotels. A ladies’ ordinary provided a socially acceptable venue where respectable women could dine alone or with other women.

I find this hard to believe as I don’t like them, but in the mid 19th century, one of the most common dishes ordered at any eating establishment was oysters. From my research, it seems like all across the country they were very popular. I can’t imagine them being very good in the middle of the country, but I suppose near the coasts they would be fresh enough.

Ice Cream ParlorOne thing I found fascinating, because “respectable” women didn’t usually eat in restaurants, a solution had to be found as the nation prospered – wealthy women could work up an appetite while out shopping. Thus the ice cream saloon came about. These decadent eateries allowed women to dine alone without putting their bodies or reputations at risk. The first ones served little more than ice cream, pastries, and oysters, but as women became more comfortable with eating out, these establishments expanded into opulent, full-service restaurants with sophisticated menus. Although ice cream saloons or parlors had an air of dainty domesticity, they also developed more sultry reputations. At the time, they were one of the few places where both men and women could go unchaperoned. As a result, they became popular destinations for dates and other illicit rendezvous.

The research I had done for my book centered around Boston, so I’ve found researching this article absolutely fascinating. I think some of these tidbits are going to have to turn up in future books <grin>.

Orphan Train series Inspiration

Sophie Cover ImageThe Orphan Train series was inspired by some real life events.

When friends of mine were adopting a beautiful little boy from another country, I decided to research the history of adoption. I found out some dreadful things, sadly, but I also found out about Mr. Charles Brace (a founder of the Children’s Aid Society) and the Orphan Trains from New York.

I’m sure there were some terrible experiences through the many years that the orphan trains were traveling, but there were far more success stories. At least one of the orphans went on to become President of the United States.

While reading  up on it, I began to imagine the lives impacted, not only of the children, but also of the adults involved. Thus was born the idea for three young women who accompanied a trainload of orphans on their journey out West.

The prequel sets up the story. The heroine of Book 2 wasn’t supposed to be on the train. She is taking the place of the heroine of Book 1. The heroines of Books 3 & 4 fully intended to leave their New York lives behind and set up a shop in their new town. Follow along on their journeys in the Orphan Train series!

Start with Sophie, the Prequel: $0.99 for Kindle:  https://amzn.to/2MUwCJ9

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