Tag Archives: Wyoming

A Cowboy to Keep

There are numerous reasons why an author might accept an invitation to join an anthology. The ability to interact with other authors is appealing; the thought that new readers might find your work through the audience of the others is an attraction; and, for some, getting a story out that perhaps you already have and sharing the workload of promotion might be the draw. As for myself, having been faced with sixteen months of wedding planning which reduced my writing time, I saw the proposition of Continue reading

NOT Happy Trails

Patti Sherry-Crews

Patti Sherry-Crews

I met Patti Sherry-Crews when we each had a story in the Come Love a Cowboy anthology, and we are continuing to work together on a second anthology for Hallowe’en as well as a third one for Christmas. We’ve bonded over the fact we have both spent time in the U.K.—Patti studied anthropology and archaeology at Grinnell College and the University of North Wales. Continue reading


IMG_0423The judges have decided—the votes are in! Having traveled more than 8,000 miles and scoured the country for the very best, here are the 2015 DOWNING ROADTRIP AWARDS…in order of encounter. Continue reading


IMG_2105Living on a ranch in rural Wyoming must be about as far from living in New York as you can get in terms of lifestyle. I love it. I love hearing pheasants in the field, seeing horses on the road, IMG_2108and I love the knowledge that Open Range still exists, even if in limited areas. I like the novelty of a gun safe down the hall and a 3 mile gravel road to the house. I’m not particularly fond of rattlesnakes in the yard or the abundance of insect life, but you can’t have everything, after all. But most of all I love waking up and finding nothing but the proverbial wide open spaces and scenery no words can describe.

IMG_2111Today, Karen and I headed down the aptly named Crazy Woman Canyon on a round-about way of getting to Buffalo. Karen at the wheel—thank goodness—we wound our way along the creek, tall walls of sculpted rock either side at times. At other moments, the gravel road dipped and coursed into narrow tracks, large pickups as well as ATVs squeezing past us in the other direction. It was an eighteen mile scenic tour for which my Honda was not made, but endured and survived. As did I.

Buffalo, of course, resonates with history. It played a part in the Johnson County War, as did Fort McKinney for which there is a marker outside of town, but earlier the town was a hub for those who came to ranch on the Powder River. The old Occidental Hotel still looks pretty much as it did in the day, bordello-like rooms available for rent, and a sign saying that those without luggage must pay in advance.

The three of us have plenty of luggage, and we are hauling it onwards tomorrow, sadly leaving ranch living behind.IMG_2113



The view outside our door

The view outside our door

Let me get this straight right away: I realize Jackson is not representative of Wyoming. Back in the ‘80s, when I first visited the town, it was a relaxed sort of place that just happened to have the benefit of being very close to some spectacular scenery, which included two national parks. There were no fancy hotels such as The Amangani and The Four Seasons, no log McMansions, and no celebrities (though Harrison Ford might have cashed his Star Wars checks by then and possibly come here). The shops were still pretty much low-key, the restaurants fairly basic, and there was an air that keeping its western identity was what Jackson wanted to do. Well, times have changed and Jackson is not Pinedale.

But what is the western identity here? What is Wyoming? For a while, every time I wrote friends that I was going to Wyoming, Google would strategically place in my side borders advertisements for land or home sales in Wyoming. Most of these were ranches being broken up into subdivisions. Now I hear stories of big corporations and wealthy businessmen buying up ranches to run as playgrounds, polo ponies replacing cutting horses, and the old family ranches being driven out land rich, cash poor when it comes to inheritance tax.

Jackson, with its fancy art galleries and over-priced alligator boots, has, I guess, found a way to survive. Yet few of the people I meet are, like myself, from around here. When my daughter flew in one year from Bogota, Colombia, sixteen hours and three flights, the taxi driver who collected her late at night was from…Colombia. It’s a changing world and Jackson—and Wyoming—is adapting the best way it can. And we’re still enjoying the scenery.IMG_1943


Flaming Gorge

Flaming Gorge

Leaving Rock Springs was something akin to leaving a well-loved history book behind when visiting a friend: you want to share it and return to discuss at a later date but you hate leaving that beloved tome. Rock Springs had so much to offer but our time was limited; we managed a fleeting glimpse of Flaming Gorge, its red sandstone crags blending with the green of the valley as if Christmas was on its way.IMG_1940

Scooting up the road towards our turn-around destination, Jackson, we passed so much I’d like to return to see: the Wild Horse grazing grounds, the old historic district, the sand dunes, even the Reliance Tipple, and then the old stage coach route and all the various trails cutting through our road. But we knew we were headed to our beloved Jackson hideaway and a rest of eight days before turning around and heading east via a different route. A kind of elation hit us, silliness and singing and thinking of games we couldn’t possibly play while driving.IMG_1939

As the skies opened for their regular mountain afternoon summer downpour, I felt cleansed and happy, even with the mammoth unloading and unpacking before us. Not really home, but home at last.



IMG_0423We have to be thankful for the modern innovation of the tire gauge light. Without it, Cristal and I might have started across Trail Ridge Road and ended up with a flat tire on the top of a mountain, far from help. As it was, the inconvenience of sitting and waiting an hour and a half while it was worked on and patched was minor, and gave us the added benefit of an early start since we had to be at the tire place at 8 am.

FullSizeRenderTrail Ridge winds its way through spectacular scenery with an abundance of wildlife and wildflowers to please the jaded traveler. The varied tones color the land like a giant quilt. The hairpin bends, the twists and turns of the road, incur a leisurely journey through this patch of the Rockies,

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road

this area of outstanding natural beauty. A stop in the popular, well-preserved western town of Steamboat Springs was also a delight; less flashy and more down to earth than Jackson, it had a laid-back feel that had us wanting to return for a less rushed visit.

Elk on top of Trail Ridge Road

Elk on top of Trail Ridge Road

But it was the road after Steamboat to Rock Springs, WY, from where I write, that had us in awe. Here were the wide open spaces of the west, here was the prairie the pioneers crossed on the Overland Trail, Chimney Rock, endless ranchlands, miles of sagebrush: SPACE. At times, the road ran beside the railroad, those seemingly endless trains taunting us with the unspeakable possibility of getting caught at a crossing. But at other times, the road met, for a few miles, the cross-poles of the telephone lines, standing like crosses on the Via Dolorosa. But there was no grief here, no pain, no suffering, no sorrow for us. If you’re a believer, it was God’s Country.

Trail Ridge

Trail Ridge


Cunning Inspiration: Dearest Darling and The Cunningham Cabin

20131018_155648Nothing takes my breath away quite so much as the landscape of northwestern Wyoming. If I say it leaves me speechless, you will understand how very difficult it is for me to relate the love affair I have with this small section of our vast country, how I feel no dictionary is complete enough to supply words to describe this patch of land where the earth has struggled like an indecisive artist to create high plains that stretch themselves into the harsh, jagged peaks of the Tetons. One can only feel reverence, one can only feel a minute speck in the vast panorama; it makes you realize how tiny and inconsequential you are in the scheme of things. So now, imagine how envious I am of those who are lucky enough to live there year-round compared to my two, comparatively brief stays each year. Then you can realize both the awe in which I hold those who homesteaded this unforgiving country and the jealousy I feel that they were able to live here. This is a land that gives you a sense of history, a sense of destiny. It is a geography of hope, forged by nature and hard won by man.

One of the men who would put his mark on this country was J. Pierce Cunningham. A fellow New Yorker, he arrived in the Jackson Hole area of the Tetons around 1885, aged about twenty. A few years later, he and his wife staked DSCN1349a claim under the Homestead Act, and thereby laid the foundations for what would become the Bar Flying U Ranch. The cabin they built, which under the Act had to be at least 12 x 12, was what is commonly known as a dogtrot or double-pen cabin, encompassing two separate rooms with a dogtrot or breezeway in-between. Although a more substantial home was eventually built, along with sheds, barns and other outbuildings, it is the original cabin that still stands today.

When I first visited Cunningham’s cabin I was immediately struck by the isolation of this remote location, how lonely it must have been in the 1880s. Although more than four hundred claims were filed in Jackson Hole in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the vastness of the valley meant there could be little interaction, especially during the harsh winter months. And this was a hardscrabble life; rocky soil led to high operating costs as ranchers struggled to feed their cattle during the long winter. The horrendous winter of 1886/87, as I described in my book Loveland, put an end to much of the open range ranching.DSCN1348

One might think, why do it then? I can only answer for myself as to what I feel when I stand there, surrounded by a landscape so startling, so inspiring, you feel purified, whole, inconsequential and ephemeral. Not having been born there, I cannot fathom my own attachment to this place, why I feel the oft-repeated need to return there, but it somehow cleanses me, clears my head. It was obvious that I somehow had to employ this site as the backdrop for a book. You might think it a poor reckoning, to use a setting so magnificent in my modest western historical romance.   After all, I could not possibly do it justice.

The view from Cunningham's cabin

The view from Cunningham’s cabin

But I have tried…

Dearest Darling comes out Oct. 8th from The Wild Rose Press.  To celebrate, I’ll be giving out copies of both this new novella and my full-length novel, Loveland, to up to 5 people who leave a comment.  The winners are Liz Flaherty, Eunice Boeve, Roni McFadden, Susan J. Tweit, and Rolynn Anderson.  Congrats to all and I hope you enjoy the books.

DearestDarling_w8647_750Stuck in a life of servitude to her penny-pinching brother, Emily Darling longs for a more exciting existence. When a packet with travel tickets, meant for one Ethel Darton, accidentally lands on her doormat, Emily sees a chance for escape. Having turned down the dreary suitors that have come her way, is it possible a new existence also offers a different kind of man?

Daniel Saunders has carved out a life for himself in Wyoming—a life missing one thing: a wife. Having scrimped and saved to bring his mail-order bride from New York, he is outraged to find in her stead a runaway fraud. Even worse, the impostor is the sister of his old enemy.

But people are not always as they seem, and sometimes the heart knows more than the head.


Emily liked the sound of his voice, low but not husky, a slight twang he had cultivated, but not pretentiously so. When he spoke, she envisaged melting caramel, something delicious, the way it could be so appealing as she stirred, with a shine and slow drip from the spoon, before it gradually solidified. Soothing. A liquid velvet.

But he hadn’t spoken today. Not since first thing when he’d told her to get ready. Not through breakfast, or as he helped clear dishes, or gave her a hand up into the wagon.

“You haven’t seen her. You didn’t see her picture, did you?” The questions came sudden, yet without malice.

Emily straightened, alert. “No. No, I didn’t.” Would I understand better? Is that what he meant?

“I keep it with me.” Daniel began to fish in his pocket. “Would you like to see it?”

“No. No, you keep it, please. It won’t change anything.” Emily panicked. She would be beautiful, the other, that would be the answer. So stunningly beautiful that just her photograph had enthralled him, mesmerized him into loving her. Emily couldn’t bear to look, didn’t want to know the answer. Didn’t wish to torture herself further. “And I’m sorry. I’m sorry for reading the letters.” A rush of words, they flowed out of her. “I should never have done that. It’s not like me. But you…well, you understand it seems—”

“You’re probably wondering what I see in her. Or what she sees in me. As for that, what she sees in me, I have no idea. Maybe, like you, she wishes to get away.”

Emily studied his profile, the planes and contours of his face, the eyes set straight ahead, the slouch hat low on his brow. He gave nothing away, was a man in control of his emotions, thinking, maybe still wondering how he had won that woman. Or maybe set on keeping the answer to himself.

Overhead, clouds scudded, scoured the sky, leached the blue, threatened.

“Did you ever ask her? Why you?”

“I did. She never answered. I’m thinking what she sees in me is husband material. I guess. She tells me about her day, the people she knows, what she does. As you read.”

“She just seems so…so outgoing, so…so very social to ever want this life. I found it difficult to believe.” She jutted her chin out, then turned to him, waiting.

He gave the reins a sharp shake. “I don’t know. I never asked if she knew what she was getting into. I described it. I assumed if she wanted to stop the correspondence there, she would have. I was pretty damn amazed and happy she’d wanted to come, written back even though I described the cabin to her, the isolation.” His gaze slid toward her.

“And you think she’ll make you a perfect wife, do you? Be happy living here? Cook your meals, mend your clothes, keep your cabin, have your babies?” Exasperated, she tried to make him think, think of what he was letting himself in for, how long a marriage like that could go on, how it could end up being even lonelier than he was now. Emily would seem to him to be trying to win him over rather than making him see the truth, but push him she must, save him, stop him. She knew those sorts of women, the debutantes, the socialites. Not a one would last out here, not for a single day.

His head snapped around to stare at her. “She’s been writing. She hasn’t stopped.”20131018_155503

Buy at: Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Dearest-Darling-Letters-Andrea-Downing-ebook/dp/B00NGWT816

The Wild Rose Press: http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=195&products_id=5842


This past Christmas my daughter, knowing her mother’s fanaticism about owning anything to do with the Old West, bought me something that was within her budget and definitely within my scope of interest.  It is a wood engraved illustration from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 30th, 1872.  It depicts  ‘Wyoming Territory—A Passenger Train of the Union Pacific Railroad in a Snow-Drift, Near Wyoming Station’ from a sketch by C. B. Savage. traininsnowwy While the illustration is soon to be framed and find a place on my wall, I was also fascinated by the accompanying news article, which uses a language not often employed in modern journalism.  “The actual troubles of east-bound Continue reading

A Lynching, an Opera, and a Book

The lynching of ‘Cattle Kate’ is a story most people interested in the history of the west know, yet don’t really know.  It’s a story that’s gone through so many permutations, from “Cattle Kate” becoming the name of a western wear company through the all-star, disastrous three and a half hour re-writing of history called “Heaven’s Gate,” that most people nowadays would probably just relegate it to the annals of The Wild West.  Basically, the tale as it has stood through the years is that on the morning of July 20, 1889, a vigilante party led by one Albert Bothwell accused Ellen Liddy Watson

Ellen Liddy Watson, by kind permission of the Wyoming State Archives

and her ‘lover’ James Averell of cattle rustling and branding, and summarily took them out and hung them.  Subsequently, Bothwell and his cronies were tried but, being wealthy cattlemen and ranchers, members of the prestigious Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, they were let off.  It was left as a shameful episode in the history of Wyoming. Continue reading