Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Cattle Kate"

Jana Bommersbach is an acclaimed and respected journalist whose work has encompassed every facet of the profession: she's been a reporter and editor for both weekly and daily newspapers; she's written books and is a major contributor to an anthology; she's written columns and investigative stories for magazines; she's appeared on television with both political commentaries and investigative stories.

Bommersbach applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Cattle Kate, and reported the following:
I never knew about the Page 69 test when I wrote Cattle Kate, so it's a delight to find that it captures such a poignant moment.

It's 1884. Ella Watson is a 24 year-old Canadian immigrant whose family settled in Kansas. But she is moving on, after a disastrous marriage and her decision—outrageous at the time—to not only get a divorce, but to demand her maiden name back.

She's headed to Wyoming Territory, where there's still land available under the Homestead Act and women, astonishingly, already have full voting rights. She's staking out on her own, although few women ever went West without a husband, father or brother at their side. She'll make her way and become one of the few women in the territories to have a claim in her own name. She'll apply for American citizenship. She'll become a foster mom to a motherless boy and build a life with a new man she loved.

And then it will all end on July 20, 1889 when cattle baron vigilantes strung her up with her husband to get her land and precious water rights.

To cover up the murder, the powerful Wyoming Cattle Growers Association concocted a fake story that transformed this homesteader into a dirty rustler and a filthy whore they named “Cattle Kate”--the only woman ever lynched in the nation as a cattle rustler. And for a century, history bought it. Some still believe it. Cattle Kate shows that the truth is far more powerful than the phony legend.

But all that ugliness is far from her mind the day she boarded a train to go West.

Here's a piece of page 69 of Cattle Kate:
“One way to Cheyenne?” the conductor asked as he punched my ticket.

“Yes, sir,” I smiled at him. To my surprise, he returned a real smile to me.

I’d been watching him punch tickets along the way, and I saw the phony smile he gave to most of the passengers. Especially the painted ladies three rows up.

One wore a red silk dress and a hat full of feathers. Another had checks so red, I wondered at first if she was sick, but then I smiled to myself when I realized it had to be rouge. One had
a snappy poodle and I thought it was queer that you’d bring a dog on a trip like this. Every one them had painted nails and hands full of flashy rings.

I had to look like a church mouse next to them. The conductor smiled at me again like he was looking at a sister after Sunday services.

“You have business in Cheyenne, ma’am?”

“I’m going to Cheyenne to start a new life.”

“Your husband meeting you there?”

“No, I’m on my own. I’m going to be a homesteader one day.”

I saw him flinch, like this was an amazing thing. I passed it off as just another man who thought I was a woman who didn’t know my place.
Visit Jana Bommersbach's website.

Writers Read: Jana Bommersbach.

--Marshal Zeringue