Guest post/Interview, Women in History

Strong Women by C.C. Harrison

I admire strong women, don’t you? I’m not talking about kickass movie women like Lara Croft in TOMB RAIDER or Sarah Conner in TERMINATOR 2 or Ellen Ripley in ALIENS. I’m talking about real young women of today who set goals, plan their lives, and make intelligent decisions for themselves. Women like Amanda, Tricia and Melissa, the three college students who were with me on the Navajo Indian Reservation as VISTA volunteers. They were smart and sharp, knew what they wanted, and deliberately set out to get it.

And I’m also talking about women in books. My favorite is Scarlett O’Hara. I read GONE WITH THE WIND scads of years ago, but I will never forget the feeling of empowerment that came over me when time after time, Scarlett stood firm and met seemingly impossible challenges while everyone around her was going to pieces. Remember when she stood in that ravaged potato field swearing she would never be hungry again? It gives me a thrill even now.

And I loved all the fictional heroines of those wonderful gothic novels of the seventies written by fabulous authors like Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, Norah Lofts, and Phyllis Whitney. When the women in their stories heard creepy noises and thumpy bumps in the attic, did they slam the door and run away? NO!  They went up that creaky staircase to check it out! I love that! I thought then and I think now it took guts to do that. To me, courage is being afraid but doing it anyway. I still have some of those tattered paperbacks on my keeper shelf.

I’m also talking about the women in my books who I hope readers find inspiring in the courage they show over the course of the story.

In SAGE CANE’S HOUSE OF GRACE AND FAVOR (written as Christy Hubbard) my female protagonist, penniless and in debt, left at the altar by a fortune hunting scoundrel, set off on her own to a rough and rugged mining town in the Rocky Mountains to claim an inheritance. She didn’t know anyone and no one knew her, and when the inheritance turned out to be a disappointment, she had to learn to survive on her own in a whole new environment. It wasn’t easy, but she found a way to empower herself and some of the other women in town.

I personally have done something similar in my life that garnered breathless gasps, raised-eyebrow astonishment, and wide-eyed questions like “How could you do that?” and “Weren’t you afraid?” from other women. I picked up and moved by myself to a small town in Southwest Colorado where I didn’t know anyone and no one knew me. I lived there for four years and wrote my first two books.  

Before beginning the Sage Cane book, I did a lot of research on women who traveled into the historic frontier. The wagon trains in some of the early movies were made to look like a fun vacation excursion. Historians know that was far from reality. And homesteading. Yes, the land was free, but imagine the suffering and hardship of turning a plot of vacant land into a home on a self-sufficient farm or ranch in those days. 

I am in awe of those women for the colossal courage they showed in going to a place that was not only new and strange, but dangerous, too. Women needed guts to live in the Old West, and here are some of those little known gutsy women:

Tabitha Brown—As a sixty-six year old widow, Tabitha packed up and traveled to Oregon’s Willamette Valley by wagon train in 1846. 

Nancy Kelsey—In 1841, eighteen year old Nancy followed her wanderlust husband across the uncharted territory between St. Louis and California. She was the only woman in a party of thirty three. And, oh, did I mention? She was still recovering from the rigors of childbirth.

Martha Black—Wild-at-heart Martha spurned homemaking and joined thousands of restless citizens swarming to gold country in the 1890s. Her spineless spouse stayed behind. 

There are thousands more women just like the ones I’m talking about who ventured into the unknown by heading West, often alone, often unwillingly. But they did it anyway. 

And here’s a recent movie featuring the kind of courageous women I’m talking about. In GODLESS,  an outlaw terrorizes a quiet town populated only by women whose husbands have either left or been killed in the war. Highly recommended if you want to see real grit.

Mystery author C. C. Harrison’s cozy DEATH BY G-STRING, a Coyote Canyon Ladies Ukulele Club Mystery is a Colorado Humanities Book Award Mystery Winner. She is currently at work on THE WOMEN OF CHEATER MOUNTAIN, a story of two homesteading sisters who are terrorized by landgrabbers.

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