Highlighting Historical Romance with Lizzi Tremayne
I love writing history. It gives me a legitimate excuse to do research, and to offer history to those who might never pick up a history book.
No, I’m not someone who never leaves the library, although it was my go-to place to hide out from the other kids at school. I have plenty in my life: family, a farm, and equine veterinary practice, part-time high school science teaching, my carriage driving horses, and best of all, my writing.
My writing began in a serious fashion: equine veterinary articles for vet journals and horse magazines. A fairly serious injury offered me the opportunity to begin writing fiction.
The historical spine of the first book in my series was the Pony Express, which gave me carte blanche to study up on the Pony Express, Utah and Nevada territory, old California, and Colonial New Zealand.
Did you know, the Pony Express only ran for 18 months? It wasn’t even running for a large chunk of that time—all of the Pony stations for a long stretch were burned down, station keepers killed, and the stock run off. It had been an incredibly hard winter for the Indians, and emigrants crossing Utah Territory deserts (including current Nevada) for the previous 20 years had decimated the buffalo they depended upon for their survival, as well as the already-rare trees the Indians needed for food and heating. The Indians had always traded at the trading posts and the stagecoach stops along the way. The sudden influx of new emigrants, and Express station keepers was devastating. Some of the newer station keepers didn’t know or trust the local Indians and didn’t want to trade with the hungry Indians. Understandably, the Indians were over it, and the results were catastrophic.
The station keepers were sitting ducks in the middle of nowhere. They were the easiest to hit, and they had cattle for milk and beef, many high quality, well-fed horses, plus flour and other food. Some keepers put up more of a fight than others.
The fast-moving Pony riders weren’t such easy pickin’s. The private owners of the Pony Express had selected 400 of the best and fastest horses, each chosen for the particular area of the route in which they would be utilized. Thoroughbreds were chosen for the eastern, easier portion of the run from St. Joseph, MO. As the trail approached Utah and the Sierras, en route to San Francisco, the terrain changed. It became rocky, tough and dry.
Did I say dry?
Not only were these deserts, they were alkali deserts and salt plains. Think Bonneville Salt Flats. For this part of the Express run, Mustangs, usually fresh off the range, were used. Nothing else would have survived the lack of water and the terrain. It seems some of the station keepers got a big kick out of the half-broke horses. If they weren’t able to obtain horses from the local Indians, Mustangs were gathered from the plains, barely broken in, roped and thrown to get shoes on them. The little Pony riders were tossed on them, and they’d let ‘em rip. The horses were soon used to it, if not actually tame. As tough as Mustang feet are, traveling those distances with a rider at speed, through rocks and desert, their feet would have been shredded without shoes. And what an ordeal to shoe them, as you might imagine.
The first riders had runs of 20 miles between relay stations—between a fast trot and gallop. Unsurprisingly, the company soon reduced that distance to approximately 10 miles, depending upon the terrain—and what a terrain.
Water, you say?
They’d have been lucky to find any water along the trail in Utah Territory—even at the stations. Some of those stations were lucky enough to have a small spring, or a brackish well, but the company carted water for up to 40 or 50 miles, sometimes none too fresh when it was first drawn from the wells, to supply water to those men, horses, and cattle living at stations without them.
While the horses had runs of about 10 miles, that is, if there was a horse at the next station to replace them, the riders rode seven runs of 10 miles, or 70 miles, for each day that they rode.
Their saddles were, to all intents and purposes, saddle trees with stirrups. The mochila, or mail carrier, was a flat sheet of leather with padlocked cantinas—letter boxes—in each corner. The mochilas had two holes cut in them: one for the saddle horn, and one to slot over the cantle. This was all the padding the riders had under their bony little bottoms. They didn’t get much time to sit down, anyway.
When a rider reached a relay station, they’d jump off, remove their mochila from the horse they been riding and toss it to the station keeper, who held their next horse. He’d slip it on to the new horse, the rider would mount up, and they be gone. Some riders got so cocky, they’d pull the mochila out from beneath them while they rode, toss it to the keeper, and be off in seconds.
After their seven rides, the Express riders spent the night at ‘ home stations’, passing their mochila on to the next rider, then ate and slept, then rode again, usually in the reverse direction, when the next mochila came flying in. That is, if there was a rider to replace them. If not, the rider would go on until there was a rider to replace them. Yes, it happened. A lot.
The station keepers held the key to one of the cantinas, but the others could only be opened at the stations which were also military forts along the way. This brings up an important point: did you know, without the Pony Express carrying the fast mail across the middle of the country, rather than through the southern route, it was probably the single most important factor in retaining California in the Union at the start of the Civil War? That’s a key premise in Book 2, The Hills of Gold Unchanging.
In Book 1, A Long Trail Rolling, Aleksandra rode the Pony Express, masquerading as a boy. It may seem implausible, but as historians study details of the American Civil War, it’s come to light that many of the soldiers were actually female, so an historical precedent for females in male positions of the time exists. As for Aleks, with nothing left to lose in her life, she was all too happy to take the company up on their offer: riding, the love of her life, and making $25 a week, when a laborer would make three. She was trying to hide a secret, and what better way to do it in my changing her sex and becoming a different person. And then, there was Xavier, but that’s for another post!
Very few riders died. One never showed up, one was found frozen the next spring, but many of them did have to outrun Indian arrows. Some got hit. One famous horse called ‘What?’ for the ‘?’ shaped blaze on his forehead, managed to get his rider into the next station before collapsing, stuck full of arrows. His devoted rider knew the horse had saved his life. He buried that horse, by himself, in that hard rocky ground. He’s in the story too.
Actually, there’s a lot of history subtly blended into the story. And into the whole series, which rolls on over the deserts, to old Sacramento at the time of the Great Flood, and on to Xavier’s family Rancho de las Pulgas. Oh yes, and to New Zealand—where the Maori land wars have just begun.
Come, take a ride with me!
About the Book: The Hill of Gold Unchanging
No one will stand in their way—and live.
As the Civil War rages, secessionists menace California.
Aleksandra and Xavier are trying to get back home–through the oncoming Civil War, the mining camps of 1860’s Nevada and California, and the Sacramento floods– to Xavier’s Californio Rancho de las Pulgas.
Embroiled in the Confederate’s fight to drag the new state from the Union and make it their own, can Aleks and Xavier survive?
The secessionists mean business.
About the Author
Lizzi Tremayne grew up riding wild in the Santa Cruz Mountain redwoods, became an equine veterinarian at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, practiced in the California Pony Express and Gold Country before emigrating to New Zealand. When not writing, she’s swinging a rapier or shooting a bow in medieval garb, riding, driving a carriage or playing on her farm, singing, or working as an equine veterinarian or science teacher. She is multiply published and awarded in special interest magazines and veterinary periodicals.