Thursday, January 9, 2020

Showcase Westering Women by Sandra Dallas

There is no more powerful voice in literary historical fiction than Sandra Dallas her new release Westering Women is high on my must read list and I know once you read all about it, it will be high on yours too!

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Release Date: 1-7-2020



From the bestselling author of Prayers for Sale, Sandra Dallas' Westering Women is an inspiring celebration of sisterhood on the perilous Overland Trail

"If you are an adventuresome young woman of high moral character and fine health, are you willing to travel to California in search of a good husband?"

It's February, 1852, and all around Chicago, Maggie sees postings soliciting "eligible women" to travel to the gold mines of Goosetown. A young seamstress with a small daughter, she has nothing to lose. She joins forty-three other women and two pious reverends on the dangerous 2,000-mile journey west.

None are prepared for the hardships they face on the trek or for the strengths they didn't know they possessed. Maggie discovers she’s not the only one looking to leave dark secrets behind. And when her past catches up with her, it becomes clear a band of sisters will do whatever it takes to protect one of their own.

Read an excerpt:


February 22, 1852
Chicago, Illinois
Hidden beneath her black umbrella, Maggie stood in the shelter of the church and stared at the woman reading the broadsheet. She was big, perhaps the largest woman Maggie had ever seen, not fat but solid, and she towered over two men who stood in front of her, their eyes on the announcement.
“I expect they will have the biggest collection of ugly spinsters ever assembled in Chicago,” one of the men said.
“The most desperate, too. Imagine going two thousand miles to find a husband,” his companion replied.
They laughed as they turned, almost running into the woman, and even through the sleet, Maggie could see their embarrassment. It served them right. No woman should be mocked for her looks. “Ma’am,” one said, as they started down the street. He poked his elbow into the other man’s side, and the two of them smirked.
The woman should have been embarrassed, too, but she only stared after the men a moment before she turned back to the broadside, her lips moving as she read the words.
Maggie moved silently to her side. The woman was a head taller and even broader than Maggie had thought. Maggie herself was tall, with dark hair and blue eyes, but she felt dwarfed beside this woman. “Are you going in?” she asked in a low voice, pushing her umbrella aside so that she could see the woman’s face. She shivered as the wind hit her, but the tall woman seemed oblivious to the cold.
“I am thinking of it. There is no mention of age,” she said. “I am thirty-five, but I am strong as a horse.”
“I can see that,” Maggie said, then bit her tongue, hoping she had not offended.
“I read the message three times this week. It is posted all over Chicago. I am of a mind to consider it. I do not see as it would hurt to find out.”
“No,” Maggie said. “I imagine you are just the sort of woman they want.”
“I can plow and harvest, milk, tend to animals, anything to do with a farm. That is my horse over there.” She pointed to a red horse that was as oversized as the woman. “My brother owns it, of course. He owns everything—he says the law gives him the right—but I borned that horse, raised him myself. Nobody else but me ever rode him.”
Maggie stared at the animal and saw it was fitted with a man’s saddle, not a sidesaddle. Did the woman ride astride? She had never seen a woman ride a horse that way, but it was likely this woman could do anything she wanted.
“You coming in, too?” the woman asked. She adjusted the shawl that covered her head. It was damp from the sleet, but she paid no attention. Maggie saw that her eyes were a little crossed.
Here it was, then, the time to make a decision. Maggie, too, had seen the broadsheets, had read them so many times that she could recite the words from memory. The message had brought her to the church, but would she really go inside? Could she leave Chicago? Did she have the stamina to go all the way to California? Did Clara? Was there even a choice? “I do not know if they would take a woman with a child,” she said, moving aside to reveal the small girl hidden behind her skirts.
The big woman’s face softened, and she smiled at the child, then held out her hand. “There is some that might like a ready-made family. I believe I myself would not mind if I were to be given such a sweet little thing. Has she a name?”
“Of course. It is Clara. She is four.”
At that, the child curtsied and smiled at the woman, then slowly put her tiny hand into the big one and murmured, “Hello.”
Maggie was surprised. “She is shy and does not often take to strangers. You have a way with children.”
The woman nodded, accepting the truth of it.
“You will not know if they will allow children unless you ask. Go in with me, then. It is a strange undertaking. If we are both to make the journey, we can start now by being friends.” She picked up Clara, who did not protest. Then, as if she were a man, the woman held out her hand. “My name is Mary Madrid.” She smiled with her brown eyes as well as her mouth.
“I am Maggie—” Maggie started to give her last name but stopped. That would not do. Instead, she said, “And as you know, my daughter is Clara.” She shook Mary’s damp hand, feeling the strength in it.
Mary stared at Maggie for a moment, and Maggie was afraid she would demand her full name. But the woman held her tongue, and the two joined the crowd swarming into the church.
Maggie selected a pew in the back of the sanctuary where she would not be noticed, and she stared at the other women as they walked past. They were a varied lot, most of them young, although some looked as old as Mary, a few even older. Many were dressed in their Sunday best, some wore the black dresses and white aprons of domestic servants, and others, such as Mary, had on the rough clothing of farm girls.
Maggie was startled to recognize a woman in a fur coat and diamond earrings, a Negro servant girl beside her. They were sitting in the front of the church. It was Mrs. George Whitney, a Chicago society leader, and Maggie had made the silk dress she wore. Why would a woman like that attend such a gathering? Surely she was not going to California to find a husband. A rich widow such as Mrs. Whitney could have her choice of husbands. Perhaps the Negro girl hoped to go, and her mistress was there to speak up for her. Mrs. Whitney was a kind woman, Maggie remembered. Still, Maggie did not want to be seen, not that a woman like Mrs. Whitney would pay attention to a dressmaker who had made her only two or three gowns.
Maggie spotted a red-haired girl with bright green eyes marching down the aisle, her head back. That one was more likely to recognize her, because the girl worked as a maid in one of the fine Chicago houses—the Fletcher mansion. Her name was Winny, Winny Rupe, and she had told Maggie that she’d come from Ireland a few years before with her brother. She had been kind, too, and she would surely recall Maggie from the time Winny had picked up a dress for her mistress. Servants were likely to recognize tradespeople, and the two had been more than casual acquaintances. Winny might even be her friend if both of them went to California. Maggie couldn’t risk being recognized, however. Not now, anyway. Maybe later, when they were far away and it was too late to turn back, Maggie would introduce herself. When Winny glanced her way, Maggie ducked her head and straightened the bow in Clara’s curls.
Maggie heard the laughter and nervous chatter around her, although she also glimpsed one or two dour women. She nudged Mary as a woman who apparently had changed her mind about attending the meeting stood up and marched back down the aisle, muttering, “You are a bunch of fools.”
“That we are,” a girl called to her, then laughed with her companion. Maggie looked away, thinking perhaps the woman was right. What could be more foolish than going all the way to California to find a husband? she wondered. But then, she didn’t care about finding a husband. She slunk down in her seat, hoping she would not be noticed.
The sanctuary filled quickly, with many women standing in the aisles or at the back of the church. The talking stopped when a tall man who had been seated in the chancel stood and walked to the pulpit. Maggie stilled Clara, who had begun to squirm, and studied him, wondering if someone so impressive could be a preacher. She hadn’t known many ministers, but the few she did know had been old men who were wizened and unctuous. This man, while gaunt, was tall and well built. His hair was gray, although he looked to be not yet forty. He strode to the pulpit as if he owned the world. Maggie straightened up. “I’d go to California for him,” a woman behind her said in a loud voice.
The man acted as if he hadn’t heard. “Good afternoon, ladies. I am Reverend William Parnell,” he said in a rich voice. “And the man behind me is my brother-in-law, Reverend Joseph Swain.”
Maggie thought he had the voice of God.
“I welcome you here. It is a fateful journey we plan, and I am sure you wish to hear the particulars.”
Joseph, dark and far more handsome than William, stood and came forward at that, saying in a voice with the slightest tone of censure, “First, brother, we must start with prayer.”
“Of course. You are right as usual,” William said with a slight sigh. Joseph stepped to the pulpit, as if he would offer the prayer, but before Joseph could speak, his brother-in-law bowed his head and asked the Lord for His blessing on the venture they were about to undertake. The supplication was brief, and Maggie wondered if Reverend Swain’s prayer would have been longer. She glanced at the woman sitting behind the men, who nodded at her brother, then patted her husband’s hand after he returned to his seat, as if in support, and whispered something to him. She, too, was familiar, although Maggie could not place her.
“Now, ladies,” William began again, looking out over the crowd. He stopped at Mrs. Whitney, the woman dressed in furs, and gave her an almost imperceptible nod. “You have come here because you have seen the sheets posted around the city and are curious. Some of you may think this is a joke, but I assure you we are deadly serious.” He paused to let that sink in. “As the posting says, myself, my brother-in-law, and his wife—my sister”—he gestured at the woman seated next to Joseph—“propose to organize a wagon train of young women of high moral character who are willing to make the arduous journey to the California gold fields in search of husbands.”
He paused as Maggie gasped. She had read the broadsheets, but until that moment, she had not fully grasped that the two men were in earnest.
“For shame,” a man called, and Maggie turned to stare at him. She had not seen any men come into the church.
“No, sir,” William said. “The Bible instructs us to marry, and it says nothing forbidding women from going by wagon train to do so.”
Mary chuckled, and the man disappeared into the shadows at the back of the church. Maggie tried to get a good look at his face, although it was unlikely he was there because of her. She’d never said a word to anyone about attending the meeting. Nonetheless, she felt a wave of fear and drew Clara closer to her. As if sensing Maggie’s turmoil, Mary took her hand and smiled at her. Despite the crossed eyes, Mary had a pretty face, although it was roughened by sun and wind. Mary would never be afraid of anyone, Maggie thought.
“You may not know me, because I have only recently come to Chicago, but many of you are familiar with Reverend Swain,” William continued. “You know him for a godly man, a man of the highest character. I am proud to claim kinship with him.” He gestured toward Joseph, who bowed his head in acknowledgment. “Reverend Swain would not commit himself to the venture we propose with any but the most respectful motives.
“And I believe there are few among you who do not know my sister, Caroline Swain. She has agreed to join us in our adventure. As noble as our purpose is, it is still a brave undertaking, and she is up to the mark.”
Maggie turned to stare at Caroline and realized then who she was. She had seen her at a place called the Kitchen, where Caroline served food to the destitute. Maggie had gone there sometimes with Clara and had been grateful the woman didn’t preach or look down on her for being poor. In fact, Maggie had seen Caroline welcome fancy women, treating them with kindness.
“Mrs. Swain will look after the welfare of those of you who elect to join us. She will provide succor and comfort as only a woman can.”
“Can she drive a mule team?” Mary called.
The audience turned to stare at Mary, and a few laughed.
“She will learn. You will all learn. And it is oxen that will take us there, not mules,” William said. “I can tell you that she can ride a horse bareback better than any boy I ever saw.”
Caroline bowed her head in embarrassment.
Joseph cleared his throat, and William said, “Of course, this venture is no laughing matter. The trip will be arduous, but we do not intend for it to be all drudgery. We will have prayer and laughter to go with the hardship.”
He was still for a moment as he looked out at the women, who were leaning forward to hear more. He had a commanding presence, and he inspired confidence. “The broadsheets have told you the purpose of our venture. We propose to take women to Goosetown in the California diggings, where you will choose husbands from among the many men there. I expect there are a hundred men for every woman, maybe a thousand.”
He stopped as several women chuckled. Maggie did not care about a thousand men. She glanced at Mary, who was listening intently. Why does she feel the need to go all that way to California just to marry? Maggie wondered.
“Of course, not every man is worthy of a wife. Some are too far gone in wickedness to be acceptable. Still, I believe the majority lack only a good woman by their side to overcome the temptations of greed and gambling and…” He paused and cleared his throat and tried to hide a smile. “And other temptations.” He looked out at the congregation a moment, and then he gave them the details of the trip. “This will not be an easy journey,” he concluded. “Only those of you in good health should consider making it. We will have wagons to carry provisions and your belongings, but you will walk most of the way.”
“Two thousand miles?” a woman shouted.
William nodded. “Walking will be the least of your challenges. You will sleep on the ground and cook over a campfire. You will encounter dust so bad you must tie a bandana over your face, and even then, it will get into your nose and mouth until you cannot breathe. You will feel a prairie heat as hot as the final resting place of the sinful. Then, in the mountains, you will be chilled by rain and hail and maybe even snow before we reach our destination. There may be Indians, although they will not be as dangerous as cholera and other sicknesses. Or accidents. Some of you may die.” He stopped to underline the seriousness of his words. “I advise you not to sign up if you are unwilling to face the hardships. We want only the ablest and purest of women.”
I am neither, Maggie thought.
“And the most moral,” Joseph added in a loud voice. He stood and looked out over the congregation. “We will accept no degenerates nor harlots nor those fleeing the law.”
“Yes, of course,” William agreed. He raised an eyebrow at Caroline.
“We expect the trip to take five months, perhaps more,” he continued. “That means some days we will go ten or fifteen miles or more a day. Some days will be slower. Others faster.”
“Why will we not go by stagecoach?” a woman asked.
“There are no stage lines to California, and if there were, the fare would be too costly. Besides, I have been to California and back, and I doubt that a coach could survive such a trip. Nor could horses. They are a poor choice for such a long journey. Mules are better, but we will use oxen. They are cheaper and more docile. Have any of you worked with oxen before?”
Mary raised her hand, and so did several others. Maggie wished she knew about animals. Dressmaking was a poor skill for an overland journey. A needle won’t be much good fighting off an Indian, she thought.
“That is good. The rest of you will have to learn to drive them.”
“Us?” Maggie muttered.
“You. We will employ men”—he glanced at Joseph—“righteous men for the most strenuous work, but you women, too, will be expected to participate.”
“What if I do not find a husband I like?” someone asked, and the audience laughed.
“With a thousand men to choose from, you would have to be mighty particular,” he told her.
“What are those men like? I would not want a degenerate.”
The minister laughed then. “Yes, there are degenerates among them, but most are good men. They are your brothers and friends and neighbors who have preceded you to California. No man will be forced upon you. The choice is yours.”
Clara was bored and began to fidget. Mary took the child from Maggie. She drew a handkerchief from her pocket and with a few quick turns made it into a rabbit. Clara was fascinated with the animal as it leapt from Mary’s hand to Clara’s shoe. Mary put the rabbit on her arm, where it jumped up and down. Clara laughed and said, “Again.”
“Tell them what they must take with them,” Caroline said, and Maggie leaned forward to hear the answer. Perhaps they would be required to purchase their supplies.
“As little as possible,” William answered. “We will provide the wagon and tents, the food and other provisions. You will need to bring sensible clothes, boots and two pairs of sturdy shoes, medicines, and personal items.”
“I shall personally supply each woman with a Bible,” Joseph interjected.
“Thank you, brother.”
“What about my furniture, my dishes. I could not go without my spinning wheel,” a woman called.
“There is no need for furniture, and likely you would have to discard it along the way if you brought it. As for dishes, we will have tin ones. China would be broken before we get to Fort Kearny. I would allow you to take your spinning wheel only if you would agree to carry it in your arms for two thousand miles.”
My dressmaking things, Maggie thought. They will not take up much room. She glanced down at the large bag she had brought with her and set on the floor. It contained her thimble and threads and measuring tape, her scissors and needles and pins. There was fabric, too, including scraps for mending and quilting. If she had to, she could tie some of the contents to her belt.
Reverend Parnell spoke again. “Ladies, I cannot emphasize too much that this will be a rigorous trip. A dangerous trip. None but the hardiest should undertake it. I do not want any of you to agree to it without knowing what will be expected of you.”
Mary raised her hand, and Reverend Parnell nodded at her. “How much you going to charge us?”
There was a chorus of “Yes, how much?” and “I wondered about that.”
Maggie had not thought about the cost. Of course there would be a charge. It didn’t matter how much. She had no way of paying it. She had been imprudent in coming here.
The minister paused and smiled at the women. “Not one copper. We have raised the cost of the trip from generous members of the community.”
Mary and Maggie exchanged glances, and others murmured words of surprise. Caroline took her husband’s hand.
“Many have supported our venture with their purses, but we are indebted to one member of the congregation in particular who has generously agreed to underwrite most of the journey. That person wishes to remain anonymous.”
“So we don’t need to pay anything?” Mary asked.
“You will need to supply your clothes and anything else you wish to take with you. And you should bring along an amount of cash to pay for necessities along the way.”
“How much?” someone shouted.
“A hundred dollars should suffice.” When a woman groaned, he added, “Many can make do with half that, perhaps even less.”
Maggie touched her pocket. She had little more than twenty dollars, but she would make that do.
The woman beside Maggie stood up and walked out with several others. Most stayed until the questions were done and William held up his hand. “We would like to see how many of you are interested in joining us. You have a week to commit yourselves, but if you would line up now, Reverend and Mrs. Swain and I will interview you. Do not be offended if we say you are not suitable for the trip. As I have told you, only the hardiest women should make it.”

Copyright © 2020 by Sandra Dallas


Dallas has written an engaging historical fiction about the strength of women in times of adversity." —Library Journal

"Female bonding in the nineteenth century had dangers unique to the era. Maggie’s 'unsuitable' friendships, forged over shared hardships and the impossibility of returning home, make this exciting novel difficult to put down." —Jeanne Greene

"Dallas focuses on a motley group of women who form a bond traveling to California on the Overland Trail... Readers will enjoy this modern take on the journey West that’s rife with girl power." —Publisher's Weekly

About the author:
Award-winning author Sandra Dallas was dubbed “a quintessential American voice” by Jane Smiley in Vogue. She's the author of several novels—including The Bride’s House, Whiter Than Snow, The Persian Pickle Club, and Tallgrass—which have been translated into a dozen languages and optioned for film. She has won the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Wrangler Award, the Western Writers of America Spur Award, and the Women Writing the West Willa Award multiple times. She lives in Colorado.


  1. I just like the review, thanks so much for let us know about it.
    -Geeky Freaky.

    1. Yeah I do too Bea I can't wait until I have time to read it. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. That would have been a hard time to live in.

  3. I love this kind of historical fiction. I could never have had the courage to make the journeys these women did. Reminds me a little of the Jane Kirkpatrick books.

    1. hmmm I don't know her Kathryn. And yes I agree I don't think I could have left everything I know to travel to some unknown place. Heck I don't think I could do it today

  4. This sounds so good! And small confession...I love mail-order bride and these types of stories.

    1. oh yes my friend I have seen some mail order bride reviews by you before. I hope you get the chance Kim

    2. I have to tell you, Debbie; I listened to this on audio.. brilliant!

  5. You find the best books to tickle my fancy, Debbie. I want this. Going on the list.

    1. Thanks Sophia Rose I try LOL, but I do know that you're a sucker for historical fiction.

  6. Replies
    1. I know she pubs in many countries Blodeuedd so I bet you could get this

  7. what does it take to be a successful author ? I would say that initial reviews and marketing definitely boost your book. I used to get a few reviews and also promote my book. Hopping to be in the top 100 genre lists and see better sales this Christmas season…

  8. Thanks for sharing this one, it sounds really good!

  9. Westering Woman sounds like an intriguing read! I'm going to keep it in mind for my Romanceopoly Challenge, where I need to choose a historical Fiction book to read! Thanks for sharing Debbie :)

    Lindy@ A Bookish Escape

    1. Oh I hope you get the chance LIndy, it's very high on my shelf