July 10, 2010

A Bumpy Ride

by Maggie Brendan
Traveling a long distance today requires little effort on our part, other than the aggravation of going through airport security or if you’re driving, it’s just a matter of checking the air in your tires, fueling up the car and hopping on the interstate in your completely air-conditioned vehicle. Not so with my heroine, April McBride, when she travels to Montana in my newest release, A Love of Her Own. She begins her trip by train, but later must take the stage to Lewistown for the remainder of her trip. She has to endure a crowded stage, a crying baby with soiled diapers and the heat without a breeze, along with all the dust that the six horses of the stage kicked up. We’ve all lived through uncomfortable traveling situations that we’d soon rather forget. But while doing the research for my book, though we romanticize the West, it gave me a clear understanding about travel and the inconveniences and a deep appreciation that I live in the 21st Century.

There was always the risk of robbery, break downs to the wheels, squeezing through a mountainous road through a narrow gorge, risking life and limb. Occasionally, passengers had to get out and walk to help lighten the load for the horses or better still, had to help push from behind if needed. Stagecoaches normally carried the US mail and many times a strong box of cash and important documents. I envisioned a Morgan Freeman type character for my story, driving and running a stagecoach franchise, who winds up tangling with the lively, but spoiled rotten April. He eventually teaches her a few things—one of them knowing how to drive a stagecoach. I decided to make my stagecoach driver’s name Morgan Kincaid.

Morgan drives his stage with six horses and sometimes travels as much as 70 miles in a day. He had a side-kick, Leon, who rode shot-gun. The typical stagecoach weighed 2100 lbs. Morgan explains to April that the driver has the toughest job, with the tug of the 33,000 lbs of power exerted per horse putting tremendous pressure on the driver’s shoulders and arms. Hence, this is where we get the term “horsepower” that’s used to describe our powerful car engines today. Morgan wore thick, heavy, leather gloves and the reins, called ribbons, were threaded though each of is fingers to be controlled with a slight touch to guide his horses. He used precise control and pressure to apply the brake as needed.

He tells April of a famous stagecoach driver, Mary Fields, an ex-slave from Tennessee nicknamed “Stagecoach Mary”, who drove a stage for the US mail in Cascade County region of Montana. She was a 200 lb. black woman, full of grit and vigor, but not afraid of anything. She became a stagecoach driver around the age of sixty, retiring after ten years to open a restaurant and laundry in Cascade, MT. Although April was skeptical of Morgan’s story, it is a truthful one.

Traveling by stage was an offshoot of mail contracts by our government, because stages could deliver more quickly compared to the time it took to be delivered by boat through the Panama Canal. Despite the hardship, riding the stagecoach gave the passenger a view of spectacular landscape. I wanted to take a real stagecoach ride and just missed the opportunity by several hours when I went to Wyoming this past fall. It’s one thing I regretted not being able to do. So I live vicariously through April McBride’s story.

Here’s a tease of the opening page for A Love of Her Own.

The Yampa Valley, Colorado
September 1896

The brisk Colorado wind tugged at April McBride’s silky tresses underneath her Stetson hat, tickling the exposed skin at the nape of her neck. She threw her head back in delight, and her laughter spilled across the valley floor, causing her roan’s tail to twitch. There wasn’t anything April would rather do on a fall day than be out riding with total abandonment. She pushed her mount higher up the slope.

A half hour later she reined her horse in as she reached the crest of the craggy ridge overlooking the Yampa Valley. Her gaze traveled down to the rumbling Blue River below where a familiar figure on horseback had stopped to give his horse a drink. Luke Weber. But this time her heart no longer thumped with excitement.

Luke paused at the river’s edge and rested his arms across the saddle horn. He glanced up to her on the ridgeline above him and lifted his hat in greeting. April returned the greeting with a wave. After a brief moment, Luke gave his horse a nudge and continued on downstream.


Buffalo Soldier 9 said...

The real ‘Stagecoach Mary’ story:

Mary Fields, Black Mary, and ‘Stagecoach Mary’ are all one of the same person. Mary was born in 1832, a slave in Tennessee and was owned by a Catholic family; the father was a businessman and Judge who had a single girl child the same age as Mary. Mary’s mother was the House Slave Servant and the judge’s favorite cook; therefore Mary was always in the main house, in the kitchen and not in the fields, as a Field Slave. Mary’s father was a Field Slave, and Field Slaves were not allowed in the Main House, much less, to court a House Slave. Mary’s mother became pregnant by Mary’s father and he was beaten and sold to another plantation for getting Mary’s mother pregnant. After Mary’s birth, Mary’s mother and her were allowed to stay in the main house, and Mary became the Judge’s daughters’ playmate, therefore being the Judge’s daughter’s playmate, Mary was allowed to read and write, a rarity for that time.

After the emancipation and coming into adulthood, Mary was 6 feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds. Mary became her own woman and traveled solely from Tennessee, up and down the Mississippi River, to Ohio, then finally to Montana where she got her nickname at the turn of the 20th Century. She earned this nickname by working for “Wells Fargo” delivering the United States Mail through adverse conditions that would have discouraged the most hardened frontiersmen of her time. All by herself, she never missed a day for 8 years, carrying the U. S. Mail and other important documents that helped settle the wild open territory of central west Montana.

Mary had no fear of man, nor beast, and this sometimes got her into trouble. She delivered the mail regardless of the heat of the day, cold of night, wind, rain, sleet, snow, blizzards, Indians and Outlaws.

Mary was a cigar smoking, shotgun and pistol toting Negro Woman, who even frequented saloons drinking whiskey with the men, a privilege only given to her, as a woman. However, not even this fact, sealed Mary's credentials given to her, her credentials boasted that, “She would knockout any man with one punch”, a claim which she proved true.

Her fame was so acclaimed, even the Actor, Gary Cooper, two time Academy Award Winner, told a story about her in 1959 which appeared in Ebony Magazine that same year. While, Annie Oakley and Martha Canary (Calamity Jane) were creating their history with Buffalo Bill, Stagecoach Mary was making “her Epic Journey!”

Despite Mary's hardness, she had another side of her, a kindness so strong, even today, in the beginning of the 21st Century, the town of Cascade, Montana, and other surrounding communities celebrate her birthday. The Epic movie is in pre-production mode. Check out website at http://www.stagecoachmary.net


brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

Buffalo Soldier-My story does not center on Mary Fields aka Stagecoach Mary, however, the facts you stated are exactly what I've read from my historical references picked up while in Montana. I guess I'm not sure why you cited the article from the internet, though. She is briefly mentioned in my book. I thought her story would be a great one for someone to write--even thought about it myself. Since I'm not a historian, I don't think I'm qualified. It'd also make a great movie on TNT. History is full of black people who made a difference in not only the West but America. BTW-there is a black stagecoach driver in my book. One of my favorite characters. I could just see Morgan Freeman playing that role.:)

Kameko said...

"A Love of Her Own" sounds really interesting and the tease given of the opening page really piques my interest for reading the entire book. I can't even imagine how people made it through everything involved with traveling cross country years ago. We take so much for granted these days with airline, cars, buses, etc.



Buffalo Soldier 9 said...

Hello Maggie.

I know your story doesn't center on Mary Fields, however; since you mentioned her, I wanted to let you know there is an epic story of Stagecoach Mary in pre-production. Keep watching stagecoachmary.net for updateds.


brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

Hi Again, Buffalo Soldier! I'm so glad there's a production in progress. I certainly don't want to miss this. My brother was a writer and before he died I can't tell you how many times he said he wanted to do a story about the Buffalo Soldiers. Keep up the good work! I think it's a shame that not enough is taught to our children about the brave souls who settled the West. I'll check out your website. God bless you on your endeavors! Mags

Buffalo Soldier 9 said...

Thank you very much Maggie...I would love to add you to my blog page, would that be ok?

Vickie McDonough said...

Can't wait to read your latest book, Maggie. Great opening!

Mary's story sounds intriguing. Did you know that Susan Page Davis has an upcoming book about a female Stage driver? It's called The Blacksmith's Bravery.

Buffalo Soldier 9 said...

Hi Vickie.

Susan's book sounds interesting...love western stories, the days when men were men, and women were women. I googled Ms. Davis and I see she has many titles under her pen...also partnering up with you on a book.

Rescue at Pine Ridge is my first novel... I wrote the story from my mini-series to keep the story alive. I have twenty-three more like Stagecoach Mary and Bass Reeves-US Deputy Marshal...the real Lone Ranger.

Thank you very much and I know you'll enjoy the novel.


brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

Thanks, Vickie. I had a blast writing this one. I didn't know about Susan's book.Sounds good!:)