My first full-length novel is going to be available this month!! My heart couldn’t be happier! In the four years since I started on this wild, wonderful journey called writing, I’ve written 14+ manuscripts. I’ve loved each and every one, but HOME FIRES will always hold a special place.
You see, in 2011, I was living back East and homesick…beyond homesick… for the West. I’d completed a couple manuscripts based on both the East and West Coasts, but my mind and heart kept turning back to Montana. Did that surprise you? Yes, HOME FIRES is different than any of my other historical Westerns because it’s set in Montana not Wyoming. (I consider Montana my second home since I spent many a year up there)
I’d been scouring photographs of my last trip in Montana and the more I looked at the pictures the more a story started to take form. Then Cord Matthews appeared and with all the Southern charm he possesses, he introduced himself and started telling me his story and how he came West to help with a family horse ranch located between Bozeman and Virginia City. As I was drooling over Mr. Tall, Dark, Southern Cowboy, Olivia Bartlett sucker punched me in the gut…I hadn’t let go of Cord’s hand…just a warning…and she started sharing her adventures and how she tracked Cord’s sorry hide, until fate intervened and brought them back together. I adored them both (well once I got over the punch), and loved every member of their family and friends. And miracle of miracles they lived near Virginia City, Montana…the very place I’d been visiting through photographs and research.
Visiting Cord and Livy allowed me to go home every day; to walk among the mountains and find a bit of peace. Also, Cord and Livy are an absolute blast to be around. I couldn’t be prouder of these two crazy kids.
So, enough about me and my mushy journey finding the gold of Cord and Livy’s story. The Matthew’s ranch sits in the mountains between Bozeman and Virginia City. Here’s a bit about history of the wild golden city named in honor of the Confederacy.
Virginia City sprung from the Rocky Mountains in what was then Idaho Territory, and boomed like most gold towns. In 1863, six men found gold in a natural bowl along Alder Gulch. They tried to keep the find under their hats by traveling to Bannack, 60 miles southwest, for supplies, but they could not fool some sharp-eyed prospectors. They returned to Alder Gulch with 200 new friends. News spread like fire and before long the area was flooded with prospectors.
|Virginia City from Boot Hill (picture courtesy of Kirsten Lynn)|
What is different about Virginia City is the gold was found during one of the most disruptive periods of American history, the Civil War. The gold brought emigrants from around the world, but by an overwhelming majority Southern “rebels” outnumbered any other emigrant. These misplaced Confederates intended on naming the town “Verona,” a misspelling of “Varina,” Jefferson Davis’ wife. However, the miners’ court judge was a stubborn unionist, and would not submit the name. Those proposing a town charter hastened to explain the name was a compromise as Mrs. Davis was born in New Jersey. Not convinced, Judge Gaylord Bissell crossed out Varina and submitted Virginia.
The town remained a primarily Southern town. Disturbing to most Unionists, the camp was producing enough gold to win the war for whoever could secure the find! This turned the eyes of President Lincoln square on the gold camp. Northern emigrants were encouraged to flood Virginia City to hold the gold for the North. As you can imagine, this didn’t go over too well with the current residents and Virginia City soon became one of the most lawless places in the West.
|One of the first houses in Virginia City (courtesy of Kirsten Lynn)|
By 1864, 10,000 people were living in and around Virginia City, and Congress created the new Montana Territory (the intent, Lincoln could send his man to serve as territorial governor and keep the gold out of the South). In 1865, Virginia City became the territorial capitol. Tents and shanties were replaced by permanent buildings and the town became home to Montana’s first public school, newspaper and telegraph and theater. Virginia City and nearby Nevada City became the site of the richest placer gold strike in the Rocky Mountains, an estimated $30 million worth of gold being removed from the gulch.
|Boot Hill, Virginia City (courtesy of Kirsten Lynn)|
As in all gold booms, few miners became rich. More businessmen benefited from the gulch. But the men who benefited the most were those who planned to gain their riches the old fashioned way…steal it. Robbers and thieves haunted the roads preying on miners, freight haulers and stagecoaches. With the rise of bandits came the birth of an even deadlier group, vigilantes. Lynchings became a daily event. Today, historians ponder who the real criminals were in an area fraught with extreme lawlessness and violence?
With all booms there comes a bust, and Virginia City no sooner boomed when things started to fall apart. Miners started moving to a new find near Helena (which would become the capitol of Montana), and by 1870 Virginia City’s population was reduced to few hundred. Dredge mining continued in the area until World War II when all mining, except for a few hobbyists, ceased in the Gulch.
|Fire truck tours (watch out for the crazy driver)|
All was not lost, and Virginia City remains the most preserved ghost town in the West. Visitors can step back in time, visit the Wells Fargo, see a melodrama at the Opera House, ride a train, visit Boot Hill, or ride south out of town a piece and into the mountains and visit Cord and Olivia.
Hope y’all will visit Virginia City with Cord and Livy in HOME FIRES! Join me on August 24th when I introduce a famous gentleman who kindly allowed me to include him in the story and use some of his correspondence to Cord and Olivia.
Barsness, Larry. Gold Camp: Alder Gulch and Virginia City, Montana.
Dimsdale, Thomas J. The Vigilantes of Montana.
Forney, Gary R. Finding El Dorado.
Langford, Nathaniel P. Vigilante Days and Ways.
Kirsten Lynn writes stories based on the people and history of the West, more specifically those who live in the shadow of the Bighorn Mountains. Combing her love of the West and the military, her stories often merge these two halves of her heart. When she’s not roping, riding and rabble-rousing with the cowboys and cowgirls who reside in her endless imagination, Kirsten helps preserve the history of Northwest Wyoming working with local history programs.
BLOG (Campfire Coffee): http://www.kirstenlynnwildwest.com/blog/