SPIRIT CREEK SERIES

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 SPIRIT CREEK SERIES

Books One through Three now available 

I’ve been working on this series for ages it seems.  I wrote the first draft of book one over a decade ago, but somehow I was sidetracked by several contemporary novels which were released starting two years ago last March.  

I’ve returned to my first love, the historical western romance!  To introduce you to the citizens of Spirit Creek, I’ll be posting a letter from the mayor and some of the characters will supply a bit of their history for you from time to time.

I hope you enjoy reading this series as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it!  Happy Reading!

 

Howdy Folks! And thank you kindly for dropping by.

My name’s Randy Barker and I’m the mayor of Spirit Creek, Montana, a rapidly growing town just a ways south of Miles City in the southeastern part of Montana Territory. Of course, it being 1889, we’re all looking forward to receiving our statehood this November. Won’t that be something!

Now, if’n you find yourself in our neck of the woods, you’re more than welcome to stay in town a spell. Just leave your horse and rig over at the livery with Kenneth Wallace and he’ll take good care of it.  If your throat is a tad parched from your travels, drop by The Joker’s Wild Saloon and Darby O’Dell will fix you right up with a shot of the worst whiskey in the territory. None of that over-imbibing and throwing a punch or two though, or our new sheriff Franklin Smith will be mighty pleased to settle you down for the night in a cell at the jailhouse. Of course, that lawyer fellow, Robert Rutherford, could probably help you out should you find yourself in a real mess of trouble. If’n you wouldn’t be caught dead in a saloon, head on over to The Spirit Creek Hotel and June Davidson would be more than pleased to serve you up a cup of coffee and a slice of her famous berry pie. She’ll even register you for a room once she hears you plan to stay on.

Forgot to pack your tooth powder? Mosey on over to the Spirit Creek General Store and Ronald and Elizabeth Waverly will sell you some, and anything else you might be needing or have a hankering for. Should you gentlemen require some tidying up, head on over to Barney’s for a haircut and a bath. And June won’t mind a bit, having a bathtub sent up to a lady’s room at the hotel. She’ll even have a maid, probably one of the twins, Gracie or Gertie, give you ladies a hand with your corsets.

By the way, if you arrived in town ailing a bit, drop by Doc Fitzgerald’s clinic and he’ll set you to rights again in no time. Should you decide to stay here permanent-like, your young’uns would be more than welcome over at the schoolhouse where Ellie Thomas would be pleased to teach them to read and quiz them on their sums.

Yep, Spirit Creek is a dandy little town. We have wealthy ranching families like the Carlyle and Maxwell clans, and some dirt poor folks like the Jones family just barely eking out a living. Mind you with child number twelve due any day, you kinda expect money to be tight for Earl and Florence.  We have soiled doves sinning in the various saloons and straining the patience of Reverend Gerald, and we have us a genuine debutante who just happens to be the bank manager’s daughter. The single male population of Spirit Creek tends to give Sadie Peterman a wide berth, being that she’s spoiled rotten, mean-spirited, and set on finding herself a husband.

This is pure rumor, mind you. But I’ve heard mumblings that a fellow named Arthur MacDonald is thinking on starting up a newspaper in our fine town. I’ve gotta tell you, my late daddy had his fingers in a lot of honest enterprises in this town, but Ellwood Barker never got around to starting up a newspaper. As current mayor, I consider MacDonald’s plan a fine idea!

Well, I’d better high-tail it back to work over at the Land Titles Office. Been nice jawing with you folks for a few minutes. All of the citizens of Spirit Creek can’t wait to spend some time with you.

Take care and we’ll be talking to you again real soon.

Signed, May 1, 1889

Mayor Randy Barker

 * * *

 Margaret (Maggie) Penelope Wentworth Burns

Hello, everyone. I’m Maggie Burns and I’m delighted to make your acquaintance! May first today. I’ve just returned from a lovely afternoon walk with Sam, down by the creek. I’m not certain what you’d like to know about me. I’m just the sheriff’s wife.

Let’s see. I was raised back East in Philadelphia. Father owned a law firm and Mother kept busy with her society doings. What a socialite she was! I never felt comfortable with all the parties and gowns and fuss. Just kept to myself mostly, with my nose in a book. I arrived late in their lives, an only child, and neither of my parents was particularly demonstrative. I guess you’d say my childhood was lonely; our housekeeper was my best friend. Now, I’m not complaining. My parents provided for my every need, including an education.

What a to-do I caused when I graduated top of my class at The Plymouth State Normal School in New Hampshire, and then announced I was moving to Spirit Creek, Montana Territory, to accept the position of schoolteacher. Goodness, Father ranted and paced in his study while Mother took to her bed. Aunt Penny lectured on whether or not I was doing the right thing, disappointment in me evident in her eyes. But I did it anyway, defied all of them and moved to Montana. Sadly, I never saw my parents alive again. Aunt Penny and I correspond occasionally, but I doubt she has forgiven me.

I’ve never regretted my decision for a minute though.  Well, the long and arduous trip to Montana left me positively ill for a few days upon arrival, but I soon recovered. And I loved teaching school. Now that I’m married to Sheriff William Burns, I love being a wife and mother to our four-year-old son, Sam, who was born a couple days after my parents were killed in a carriage accident.

Oh fiddle! Look at the time! William will be home for his supper soon, so I best run along now. Maybe we’ll chat again.

Maggie

 * * *

Luke Matthew Carlyle

Good day, folks. My name is Luke Carlyle, and I own and operate the Diamond C Ranch situated about five miles south of Spirit Creek.

When I was a young lad, my father, Matthew Carlyle, got it into his head to move to America from his comfortable home in England. Once he got settled on his ranch, he sent for me and Mother when I was fifteen years old. I’ve lived in Montana on this ranch ever since, and I’ve owned it since I turned twenty-one when Pa was killed in a riding accident. Dang I miss him. He’s buried quite a ways from the valley where the main house and barns are situated, in the Carlyle family graveyard. I sit at his gravesite and I still ask him his opinion on a few matters from time to time. Hope that don’t make me sound a little crazy. I’m a totally sane and stable fellow.

My dear wife, Catherine, died of influenza the spring of 1887. I’ve been a widower for the past two years. Don’t like it much. Been raising my two daughters, Lucy’s 11 and Patti’s 7, with help from my foreman, Ned. I’ve got to tell you, I’m plumb sick of washing dishes and doing laundry and scrubbing floors. I’ve had an idea rumbling around in my head for a couple days now. Of course, I haven’t shared it with anyone. I reckon I should hire some help, but I don’t know who’d be available for the position in this small frontier town.

Well, we’re busy with calving season, so I’d best get back to work. Nice chatting with you fine folks.

Luke

* * *

Ned Armstrong

What in tarnation do ya want to know about me? Sure yer not just being a tad nosy? All right, all right. I apologize for that. Totally uncalled for. Give a listen then.

I met Matthew Carlyle years ago when we were mining together. We hit it off right away, seemed like we’d been friends since forever. Strange. Considering I was raised in Texas and he was newly-arrived from England.  One day Matthew got it into his head to start up a ranch, and there was no tellin’ him otherwise. A good man was Matthew, but plumb stubborn. All right, maybe determined would be more accurate.

In 1868, I accompanied Matthew to Texas to herd a thousand head of Longhorns to his new Montana ranch. I’ve lived and worked on the Diamond C Ranch ever since. Married a fine woman and we adopted us an orphan boy, too. We love young Mike like he was our own flesh and blood.

Of course, after Matthew’s riding accident and untimely death, young Luke took over the ranch. Twenty-one, he was. Newly-married, and still wet behind the ears in my opinion. But Sonny Boy dun his pa proud, turned the Diamond C into an even bigger outfit. ’Course I ain’t gonna tell Luke how proud I am of him, lest it swell his head or somethin’.  I know, he’s not like that. Probably knows I’m proud of him anyway.

Couple years ago, his lovely wife Catherine passed, and I’ve been helpin’ him raise them girls and work the ranch at the same time. We’re both near to tuckered out and probably ain’t doin’ such a good job with the girls. Think I’ll suggest he hire himself some female help to do the women’s work, free up our time for ranchin’.  Ain’t that a good idea? We’re busy with the calving right now, and branding time is just around the corner.

Well, if’n ya got no questions about me, I’ll mosey on now.  Take care ya hear.

Ned

* * *

Ronald and Elizabeth Waverly

Ronald’s busy in the store at the moment, so Elizabeth here. I’ll just chat with you folks a spell. Ronald and I own and operate The Spirit Creek General Store, and I must say it keeps us busy. We carry everything in stock from canned goods to corsets!  Oops, ladies, maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned the latter. Could be a few fellows are reading this, too.

Ronald and I grew up back East and we married over thirty years ago, just before we headed to Spirit Creek to start our life together. At first, my father wasn’t too fond of the idea, being that Ronald was ten years older than me. But once he met Ronald, Father soon gave us his blessing. I wore the prettiest blue gown I’d ever owned, and we said our ‘I do’s’ right there in the neighborhood church. We couldn’t wait to start a family. Sadly, that never happened for us, but we’ve been happily married anyway.

We’ve lived in Spirit Creek almost since the town’s inception, and I’ve got to tell you we’ve seen a mess of changes here. The town just keeps growing with new businesses starting up, new people coming to settle here. It’s been a pure pleasure supplying folks with goods all these years. 

Of course, I help Reverend Gerald with church and community projects, and Ronald serves the town as Chairman of the School Committee. He’s constantly hiring a new schoolteacher. Those darn ranchers and sheriffs keep marrying the ones he has hired!

Take for instance, Maggie Wentworth. She taught school and lived with us in back of the store for a spell. She’s like a daughter to us. Of course, she married Sheriff William Burns and we couldn’t love young Sam more if he were truly our grandson. Ronald hired Ellie Thomas to replace Maggie, and that’s going on six years now. Truly, the longest time we’ve gone without a schoolmarm marriage. Ellie has her eye on that handsome deputy, Franklin Smith, however. I’d bet my new navy hat, Ronald will be hiring another schoolteacher soon enough.

Well, I hear Ronald calling me. The store must be extra busy at the moment, so I’d best go lend a hand. You keep in touch now.

Elizabeth

* * *

Mike Armstrong

Howdy, folks. I’d like to tell you a bit of my history. Nothing pretty, but I reckon I turned out all right.

Years ago, I recall living with my pa out on some lonely mine site. Cold at night and blistering hot sun during the days. Lonely, hardly any other folks around. Mama had died. I don’t remember if she was ailing or if there’d been an accident. I wasn’t very old, maybe four or five at the time. I cried my eyes out when Mama died, and Pa called me a sissy-boy. But I didn’t care; I loved Mama a lot.

I remember being hungry all the time. There was never much food, and Pa always said he couldn’t boil water. Sometimes, some other folks passing through would share their meal with me. All Pa was interested in was mining, obsessed. He weren’t too good at it though. And then he got himself sick and eventually died. Just like Mama had.

The day after Pa died, an old fellow Pa had been mining with mounted his sorry-looking horse and hauled me up behind him. We rode that old sway-backed animal for several days. All the while, the grizzle-bearded man was coughing and muttering to himself like a crazy person. I had no idea where we were going.  Couldn’t be any worse, I figured, than living in a drafty old tent with hardly any food and no other kids around to play with. Finally, we arrived in a town. I couldn’t read, of course, but I heard a fellow standing outside a saloon mention the place was called Spirit Creek.

The old miner rode up to The Spirit Creek General Store, mumbling and teetering in the saddle. Almost fell off the horse. Someone helped me down and took the old fellow off to see a doctor. I later learned it was Doc Fitzgerald that saw him. By then, the old guy was too far gone. Nothing Doc could do for him. They buried him later that afternoon.

I remember just sitting on that wooden bench outside the store, all alone, trying my darnedest not to cry. Probably smelled to high heaven, too. Pa wasn’t partial to bathing me. A good splash in the creek served us fine, he’d say.

Then a fellow rode up on the largest horse I’d ever seen. The man called him Thunder, and I nearly wet my pants when the horse leaned over the hitching rail and tried to sniff my leg. “How-do, boy,” he said, smiling at me. And then he wandered into the store. I just sat there, feeling sorry for myself and forcing back the tears.

I learned later that the man inquired as to who I was, and the store proprietors, nice couple named Ronald and Elizabeth Waverly, explained what had happened. Well, he comes back outside, introduces himself as Luke Carlyle. Says he’s taking me home to the Diamond C Ranch with him. I was beyond scared by then, just wanted to be anywhere but sitting on that bench all alone. So, he settled me in front of him on that big horse and off we go. I thought that horse could fly if he put his mind to it. Suddenly, we’re riding onto Mr. Carlyle’s ranch. I might have dozed off for a spell.

I figured I’d be living with him and his family. But, no, Mr. Carlyle had something better in mind. He rides up to a pretty little cabin where a kindly-looking fellow stepped out onto the veranda. Mr. Carlyle explains that I’m an orphan and if these folks would like to take me in and raise me as their own, he’d be much obliged. Holy cow! He intended to just hand me over to them! Well, next thing I know I’m up to my neck in a bathtub and the fellow’s wife is scrubbing my ears like there’s a pound of dirt in them. There probably was. She’s talking to me about supper and my own bed and how she figured she was my mama now. That night, she served up the best beef stew and biscuits I’d ever eaten. Had some berries for dessert. Heck, I’d never known someone invented a thing called dessert. I had me a new mama. And a decent pa as well. I think I fell in love with them that very night.

So for this past fifteen years, I’ve lived on the Diamond C. Never bothered with schooling except some words and a bit of cyphering I learned from the other ranch hands. Just worked real hard, especially with Mr. Carlyle’s horses. I’m in charge of all the horseflesh on the ranch. From his stallion, Thunder, down to the little ponies his daughters ride. Got nearly twenty other head here, some are old and just waiting to die. An old fellow named Bob’s my favorite. Most are cattle horses that the ranch hands ride out on the range.  A couple are trained to pull the buggy, the carriage and the supply wagon. But I’m responsible for them and I love my job. Mr. Carlyle gave me the title of Head Horseman for the Diamond C. Dang it, I like the sound of that. Makes a fellow feel he’s important.

Now…if I could only find me a wife. I wouldn’t mind a few young’uns underfoot one day either.

Best get back to the horse barn for now. Been nice meeting you.

Mike

* * *

Hattie and Robert Morgan

Hello there. My name is Hattie Morgan. My husband, Robert, and I own one of the ranches bordering the Diamond C Ranch, and we’re the best of friends with the Carlyle family.

I’m to tell you about myself. Good gracious, I don’t know where to start! Of course, I’ve only lived in Spirit Creek for a little over ten years. I grew up back East, only daughter to working-class folk. When Pa and Mama passed away suddenly, I was left destitute to rely on my own devices. A girlfriend showed me an advert in the newspaper for a mail-order bride. A fellow on a horse ranch way up north in Montana wanted a wife to share his life. We corresponded for a couple of months, and then he sent the fare to Spirit Creek.

I had no idea what awaited me when I stepped off that stagecoach. Robert Morgan greeted me with a bouquet of spring flowers in his hand and Reverend Gerald standing at his side. I refused to marry him until I had the opportunity to bathe and change my clothes. Robert checked me into a room at The Spirit Creek Hotel and promised to return the next morning. And he did. I was rested and wearing the pretty pink dress I’d purchased at the second-hand store back home. The reverend married us, and I moved to Robert’s ranch. I had no idea he came from such a prestigious family, a descendant of Justin Morgan who founded the Morgan horse. Also, I hadn’t a clue about raising chickens and cows, or breeding horses, but Robert patiently taught me everything he knew and I lapped up every bit of instruction. Within weeks, I’d fallen in love with Robert, such a special man! In time, our two sons were born, and I couldn’t be happier.

And here’s my husband. Tell them about yourself, dear.

Howdy everybody. I’m Robert Morgan. Let’s see, what can I share with you? Well, folks used to ask me, what on earth were you thinking when you advertised for a wife? For one thing, I was looking for somebody to spend the rest of my life with. There weren’t a lot of good women to choose from in this town, and I wanted someone special for myself. When I got that first letter from Hattie, I knew she was the one, but I just kept sending letters so as not to scare her off. I made the right decision sending her the ticket to Spirit Creek. My wife and my boys are my entire life. True, I own the ranch now that my parents have passed, but a man needs more in his life than just work.

Of course, a fellow needs good friends, too. I was born and raised right here on my father’s ranch. My father and Luke Carlyle’s father, Matthew, were the best of friends, and Luke and I grew up together, more like brothers than best friends. There isn’t a thing I wouldn’t do for that man, and I’m certain he feels the same. He buys all his horses from me, and I raise Herefords and he raises Longhorns. We celebrate each other’s successes and stand by the other fellow when losses occur. We think alike and we have the same values. Our families couldn’t be closer. When Luke lost his wife, Catherine, Hattie and I felt like a piece was missing from our lives, too. The poor fellow is at his wit’s end, raising two daughters and running the ranch. We sincerely hope he finds himself a suitable wife to share his life with one of these days.

Is that enough jawing, Hattie? I’ve got to get back to the barn. One of the mares is about to foal any minute.

Yes, darling, you can go back to work. I’ve got to start supper anyway, so we’d better go. You folks take care now.

Hattie and Robert

* * *

Bertha Watson

Well, hello there. I’m Bertha Watson and I’m Doc Fitzgerald’s housekeeper. Goodness, let me set a spell and I’ll tell you a little something about myself.

First off, it’s no secret that everyone considers me Spirit Creek’s old maid. Of course, I’m what you’d call a Plain Jane kind of woman. Not what you’d consider attractive by any means. And I’m tall and sturdy and I’ve thickened through the middle over the years. Land sakes, I turned fifty-three last September. Where did the time go?

When Father passed away, I couldn’t pay the upkeep on our house. Mama passed suddenly several years before. Father said it was her heart. That intuitive old Doc Fitzgerald knew I’d be in trouble financially if I hung on to that big house, and he stepped right in to help me out. Folks are like that in Spirit Creek.  So, I sold the house to a fellow who was our mayor at the time, Ellwood Barker, and I took the housekeeping job Doc Fitzgerald offered me.

A couple of fellows showed an interest in me years ago. But I’ve never found a man worth tolerating for fifty years, that’s for sure. Cooking his meals and washing his socks and whatnot. Of course, I wouldn’t have minded raising a few children. Just wasn’t to be, I suppose. But working for Doc Fitzgerald puts a few coins in my pocket and keeps me in needles and such. After completing the day’s chores, I do enjoy sitting around a crackling fire on a winter’s night, or out on the front veranda, listening to the crickets down by the creek on a summer’s evening, while working on my needlepoint.

I’d best get back to my work; this dusting isn’t going to finish itself. But it’s been nice chatting with you, folks. You take care now, and if you’ve got some young ones at home, give them a hug for me.

 Bertha

* * *

Florence Jones

Hello there. I’m Florence Jones. When I was asked to chat with you for a few minutes, I jumped at the chance. Having borne eleven children with another one on the way sometime this month (Lord, I hope this is the last one), I’m pleased as punch to set a spell and put my feet up.

I’ve been married since I was fifteen to a fine fellow named Earl Jones, for almost thirty years now. We’ve lived in Spirit Creek for a good portion of that time. Raising a family here is a pure pleasure. Everyone knows everybody and watches out for all the children, not just their own. Word of a stranger in town travels faster than a wildfire down Main Street. Frankly, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather live.

Now, I’m nothing more than a housewife, as you can well imagine. But Earl loves to work!  He was raised on a horse farm back East and got himself some veterinarian training there, which comes in handy since there’s no animal doctor in these parts. None of these ranches seem to mind that Earl don’t have no animal doctoring papers. They’re just happy to have his expertise when their horses or cattle are ailing.

Earl works for the livery man when he’s particularly busy, and Earl helps June Davidson at the hotel with heavy work like chopping wood and hauling water and such. Earl’s an excellent carpenter and he’s always getting himself hired to build everything from a house to a corral. For heaven’s sake, Bertha Watson hired him to build a new chicken coop out behind Doc Fitzgerald’s mansion. No job too big or too small is Earl’s motto.

I mentioned my eleven children. Peal’s a trained nurse, thanks to Luke Carlyle who hired her to work for him while his wife was carrying his oldest daughter. Then he sent her back East to train, all expenses paid. She married a wonderful man named Doctor Benjamin Johnson, and they live and work at a hospital in Philadelphia. My oldest son, Ernest, works with his father, but he’s dreaming of becoming a Pinkerton detective. Can you imagine? Next youngest is Donald and he works for his father, too. And Janie, our second oldest daughter, loves working in the law office as Mr. Rutherford’s secretary. My twin girls, Agnes and Angela, are just finishing their book learning at the town’s schoolhouse. Angela wants to be a teacher and Agnes has her heart set on being a nurse like her older sister. She’s been pestering Doc Fitzgerald about medicine and she even helped deliver her last two siblings. She’ll probably help out with this one, too. Of course, all the rest of the children are still in school, or waiting to start.

Speaking of which, everyone will be home for dinner shortly, so I’d best get busy and fix something for them all to eat. At least Earl’s an excellent provider and no one ever goes to bed hungry in this house. There’s never money for luxuries, of course, but we’re happy. Take care now.

Florence

* * *

Gertie and Gracie

Hi there. Gertie’s my name and I’m the oldest by two minutes. Our past isn’t pretty. Ma ‘worked’, if you get my drift, in a saloon in Miles City, and she left us girls alone most nights in the shanty behind the saloon where we lived. Our mother was always hauling home some lost cause, calling him her boyfriend. I can tell by the look on Gracie’s face that she’s afraid I’ll divulge her secret. But I won’t. It’s just too shameful for words. But it wasn’t her fault. I keep telling her that, but she don’t believe me.

Anyway, when Ma suddenly passed, the fellow who owned the saloon tossed Gracie and me out on the street when we wouldn’t do what he wanted, namely, work in the family business. Same day, he allowed one of his other soiled doves to live there. Gracie cried for hours, and I hadn’t a clue what we’d do. Fortunately, a kindly lady named June Davidson inquired as to what had happened. When we told her our sad story, she scooped us up and hauled us home with her to Spirit Creek. She trained us as maids and we’ve been working for her and living in this lovely town ever since. Mrs. Davidson saved our lives, and we couldn’t be more thankful.

Mrs. Davidson schooled us on proper behavior and saving ourselves for the right gentleman. She told us there’s no end to the number of fellows looking for a wife, especially the local ranchers. Gracie has been catching the eye of the son of one of those ranchers, but she insists she’ll never marry. The poor thing can’t move beyond her past, it seems. Meantime, I’m just biding my time, waiting for the right fellow. I can’t wait to marry and have a proper family of my own.

Oops, got to go. Those beds won’t change themselves, and soon the dining room will be filled with customers wanting their supper. If you drop by the hotel for a bite to eat, maybe I’ll wait on your table.

Gertie

* * *

Rebecca Simpson

Good day. I’m Rebecca and I’m married to rancher, Wilber Simpson. Our ranch borders on The Circle M Ranch owned by the Maxwell family. We’ve been neighbors forever. Buddy Maxwell’s wife passed when his two sons were only teenagers. Few years later, there was some set-to one night and his oldest son, Chance, saddled up his horse and rode off the ranch. Don’t rightly know what ruffled Chance’s feathers, but I’d heard he and Buddy argued more than they agreed on anything. I’ve heard rumors that Chance lives in Texas with his uncle. Buddy’s younger son, Cody, stayed on to help with the ranch though.

Wilber and I are content on our own spread. Our son and his wife help with the work, and they’ll inherit the whole shebang when we pass. I’ve worked as the local midwife for more years than I care to admit to. Delivered my own grandbabies. My daughter-in-law hasn’t said anything yet, but I suspect she’s carrying again.

Anyway, I’m getting up in years (just how many years is none of your business) and I’m thinking I should be training someone to take over the midwifing duties. Doc Fitzgerald delivers his share of babies, but the old fellow can’t be in two places at once. And lots of the local womenfolk prefer another woman tend them at a time like that.

Maybe some responsible young lady will come along and ask me to train her. At least, I’m certainly hoping so. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I would ask my daughter-in-law, but the woman faints at the sight of blood! Well, it’s been lovely chatting with you, but I really should go check on Mrs. Decker. She’s due in a few weeks, and I promised I’d drop by their ranch today. You take care now and hug your young ones.

Rebecca

 * * *

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