Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Love Letters from the Frontier

by | February 14, 2013 | 6 comments

Louis L’Amour is not known for having the frontier female as a main character. However, of all his voluminous novels of the West, the one I remember the most features the widow Evie Teale and her tumbleweed notes of love and longing, which seemed to find their way into men’s hearts:  Conagher

Charlie McCloud, Stage Driver: Well, what are you up to, Conagher? Drifting again?
Conn Conagher: I got tumbleweed fever.
Charlie McCloud, Stage Driver: You too? Half of the cowboys in the country are chasing tumbleweed.

Conagher captures an elusive element of storytelling–finding the unexpected. The best romance has the reader finding love in the most unexpected places.

We don’t think of the frontier as hospitable to the pursuit of writing. The letters of the heroine and Frank Churchill in Jane Austen’s novel, Emma, spring from a proper milieu–the English country house. Besides, pioneers settling the West had more than enough to do without frittering away the precious daylight hours penning their desire.

What writing that could be done would seem better confined to communicate whether or not one was still alive. One remarkable 1852 letter from daughter to mother records the disasters encountered along the wagon trail to Oregon, including deadly alkali water to a wagon wheel running over a boy’s head. Exhausted, the letter ends with a bit of spirit, albeit sarcastic:

“I suppose you will expect to hear something of the beauties of this great paradise called Oregon, but you must wait awhile before you can hear much flattering news from me.” — read the full account in the Journal Standard here http://bit.ly/VU31Tr

 In Texas, during those years when the land came to be farmed, life was still hard. Lonely claims out on the featureless plain, where the black-land soil was rich but hard as hell to plow, courtship flourished here and there. One set of letters from an 1879 collection has recently surfaced. John was courting Emma, taking her for a buggy ride and giving her a kiss that was apparently memorable, for she wrote to him: “I don’t reckon that …buggy horse will ever forget Christmas.” But she had promised to marry another, prompting an eloquent exchange:

“Floyd can never love you more sincerely or with a more heart whole love than that I bear you,” John wrote.

“Although you think I have deceived you to a certain extent, God knows it was not intentionally done, for I always thought too much of you to treat you in such a manner,” Emma replied.

                        — from the collection of Melvin E. Brewer, now part of the University of North Texas archives (http://bit.ly/YgvYoQ)

In 1934, a notable Texan proposed  to his love and was predictably impatient when she delayed her answer. He wrote:

“It is an important decision. It isn’t being made in one night.. but your lack of decision hasn’t tempered either my affection, devotion or ability to know what I want.” (italics added for emphasis)

Her name was Lady Bird. His was Lyndon Baines.

Now that’s finding romance in the most unexpected places.

 - from the LBJ Library archives

– from the LBJ Library archives




  1. Ella Quinn

    I love reading these letters. Thanks for posting them. I tweeted.

    • Angelyn Schmid

      Thanks, Ella! I love reading them too–they give me inspiration for writing in the period.

  2. Ally Broadfield

    I’m not overly fond of Johnson, but he did write some great lines! Fun post, Angelyn. I love the sarcasm in the letter in the Journal Standard.

    • Angelyn Schmid

      You’re not alone about LBJ. I’ve heard lots of folks curse his name every day on a certain highway in Dallas. We could all use a little sarcasm! Thanks for stopping by, Ally.

  3. Annie Harrower-Gray

    Wrong feed I know but just wanted to say thanks for the info on Jane Gordon’s Reel Dancing.
    I’m writing a book ‘Scotland’s Hidden Harlots and Heroines’ which will be published by Pen and Sword this year and Jane will feature in it. No, no don’t get upset she’s not a harlot though many women who were protrayed as such certainly weren’t.

    The information will be a great help in supporting a hypothesis I have regarding one of Burn’s best loved poems.
    Thanks again Angelyn.

    I’ve been trying

    • Angelyn

      Very glad you came by, Annie! Far be it from me to be upset–the accusation of harlotry always gets my attention, because I know there is always more to the story, as it indeed was in Jane’s case. Do please ping us when your book comes out. There are many in our group who will be keen to read it, I daresay.



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