Today, I’m pleased to announce the release of my contemporary western romance, Lucky in Love, by Champagne Books. This story is about a city woman who inherits a ranch from an aunt she never knew, and the challenges she faces in taking over the property while being harassed by a powerhouse wanting her land, and being wooed by two equally charming and attractive western men.
My heroine’s story got me to thinking about the real women who shaped the West one horse or one ranch at a time. Those pioneer women of yesteryear represent modern-day roots—the foundation story of land and livestock. Women ranchers have always negotiated harsh environments and maintained a kinship with the land and animals, which could be exhausting or satisfying, or both. That bond continues today with women throughout the West, whether they are working alongside their husbands, or on their own. I want to tell you the story about one remarkable woman rancher who stands out in western history. Her name was Josie Bassett.
Josie was a unique blend of a sweet, generous lady who occasionally rustled cattle, poached deer, and brewed bootleg whiskey to survive. For over 50 years she lived alone in a cabin without plumbing, telephone or electricity deep within the Utah area now known as Dinosaur National Monument.
Josie came from an unconventional family. While her father was gentle and mannerly, Josie learned the skills of riding, roping, shooting, raising cattle, and strong-willed independence from her mother. In her youth, Josie’s companions were cowboys and outlaws. Notorious for her succession of five husbands, she divorced four of them and was widowed once. Her divorces were scandalous at the time. She ran one off with a frying pan! And, although the one husband who died most likely succumbed to acute alcoholism, rumors flew that Josie had poisoned him.
When lands opened up for homesteading in 1913, she decided to flee from the rumors and make a new life for herself. At age 40, Josie found the land she wanted on a creek; at last finding true love in her homestead. In 1924 she built a new cabin. While clearing brush for her gardens, she became frustrated by her long skirts and switched to wearing pants—unheard of in those days. Bib overalls were donned for work at home, and western-cut twill trousers were worn on trips to town. Skirts were reserved only for weddings and funerals from then on. One day while working, Josie’s long curly red hair became entangled in thorns. Cutting herself free with an axe, she then finished the shearing with scissors, and from that time on wore her hair short—again defying convention by creating her own distinctive style.
Josie was self-sufficient. Food was not a problem, for the most part, due to her garden, orchard and cattle. She canned and made jerky, soap and clothing. She felt fortunate and was quick to help those in need, including her son and his family. During the Great Depression, she distributed food to the needy on a weekly basis. One winter she lived in a dugout so a homeless family could use her cabin. After selling most of her cattle to help her son, Josie sometimes shot deer out of season to provide meat for herself, her family, or other needy neighbors. Once, a game warden stopped by after she’d illegally shot a deer. When she invited him in for coffee and biscuits, the warden told her he was there to arrest her for poaching. Confessing, Josie took him to the freshly dressed carcass, only to find out the warden had been joking. Astounded by her honesty, the warden let her off with a warning and enjoyed her venison gravy over hot biscuits.
During Prohibition, when Josie needed cash to help her grandchildren, she started brewing bootleg whiskey. Although she knew it was illegal, she was not morally opposed to the stuff, even though she was not a drinker. Besides whiskey, she also became known for her apricot brandy. Continuing the practice even after the repeal of Prohibition, she finally stopped bootlegging when her son threatened to break up the still, and she was warned revenue agents were on their way. Josie didn’t want to embarrass her family.
Her need for cash during the depression got Josie into serious trouble another time. In 1936, an old enemy accused her of butchering stray cows and selling the beef in town. Six ranchers joined in the accusations, and she was arrested when hides were found buried on her property. Neighbors provided her bail while Josie maintained that her enemy had framed her. However, the county attorney felt all evidence pointed to her guilt. Coming to court in a dress and smiling graciously, the jury failed to reach a verdict against her. She was retried, and once again there was a hung jury, so the county attorney gave up.
After years of squatting on her land, Josie finally made the homestead legally hers in 1945. Unfortunately, by some misunderstanding with a bank loan, she lost her land. Able to retain her cabin and a few acres, she lived nearly 20 more years on her ranch. In 1963, at age 89, while alone at the cabin, her horse accidentally knocked her over and she fell and broke her hip, experiencing terrible agony before being found. This accident ended her days on the homestead, and Josie Bassett died a few months later, disheartened at having to leave her home of many decades, but remembered by all as a generous and colorful character.
Do you know any stories about remarkable women of the West you’d like to share?
Giveaway: Every person who leaves a comment will be entered into a drawing to win an electronic copy of Lucky in Love. Please visit my website to read a blurb, an excerpt, and to view a video. Feel free to join my Announce Only Newsletter Group while you’re there.
Thanks to the ladies at RJ for having me today.
Buy Lucky in Love at: http://www.champagnebooks.com