Sunday, December 19, 2010
I knew right away that I wanted my upcoming Western release Montana Belle to be something of a fish out of water story. My heroine, Augusta Springer, is the neglected daughter of a cattle baron who has no time for his family after the death of his wife. He shuttles his young daughter off to school back in Boston, where she thrives. She's none too pleased, then, when he summons her home as a young woman, determined to make her marry a neighbor and longtime friend to ensure the succession of his beloved ranch. Augusta finds herself torn: She's always had feelings for Joshua Bradley, but she doesn't want to leave behind the life she's built for herself back in Boston.
To give realism to the story, I researched the cattle barons of Montana. In the process, I came across an interesting character: Conrad Kohrs. Kohrs was a German immigrant who kicked around Canada and the American west before settling in Montana. Originally lured west by the promise of the gold rush, he discovered he was a much better cattle rancher than miner. He made his wealth selling beef to the miners in the gold camps.
He bought a ranch from Canadian fur trader Johnny Grant and used it as a seed for his empire. At one point, he owned 50,000 head of cattle and his animals ranged over 10 million acres. He and his half-brother, John Bielenberg, managed the ranch together. After the brutal winter of 1886-1887, during which tens of thousands of cattle died from exposure and starvation, the two men were responsible for introducing many modern ranching methods to the Montana cattle business, including using purebred ranching stock and growing and storing feed, rather than moving the cattle freely from pasture to pasture.
I also took great pleasure in reading about Kohr's wife, Augusta. (And yes, I stole her first name for my heroine, although there is little other resemblance.) Augusta moved to Montana as a young bride from the comparative civilization of Iowa. She was stunned by the primitive conditions that the formerly bachelor rancher and his employees had been living in and faced a lifetime of hard work to create a home for her family. She succeeded beautifully, and fortunately for us, it's all been preserved. The Korhs ranch is now a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Services. To see photos of the ranch house and its furnishings, and to see more about the history of the ranch, see here.
The NPS site here offers details of the National Historic Site if you're interested in planning a visit.