On April Fool’s day in 1873, 30 people from England and Scotland began a journey to America and the prairies of Kansas to live a dream made possible by George Grant. They boarded the Alabama, the first steamship to set sail in 1873 from the harbor at Glasgow. The journey would be a year long, consisting of crossing the ocean by ship, traveling by train, stagecoach and river boats to move halfway across America. On board that ship was a remittance man by the name of Lord Blair Prescott.
Before Prescott left, he visited a small “nunnery” in England where he chose himself a bride. A young woman by the name of Wilda Duncan. In return for her marrying the Lord, Wilda’s sister Rowena and young cousin Tyra were allowed to accompany her. He would see to their welfare until they married. It was arranged for them to follow accompanied by Mr. & Mrs. Chesshire, once he was settled with land and a home.
The Victorian emigrant’s hopes for a new life were based on George Grant’s grandiose plan. He had discovered 69,000 acres of land in a 20 mile strip on either side of the Kansas Pacific Railroad tracks on the Kansas Prairie. It had rained a lot that spring and the Kansas prairies were lush with grasses, belly high to a buffalo, as far as the eye could see. Owners of the railroad were selling the land at an average of 88 cents per acre with the hope that settlement would create more customers for the railroad.
Grant was a smart businessman. He made an offer that he would bring the best blood of England to settle there, if the company would build a place where these emigrants could live while they built homes and businesses. The combination depot-store-post office-hotel was constructed to house 25 people. In addition a railroad siding was added to accommodate the handling and shipping of their stock that consisted of sheep, cattle and bob tailed ponies. The deal was struck.
The location was not far from Hays City and Fort Hays, which should protect the new settlers from Indian attacks, still a possibility. Grant stipulated that to take part each person must buy no less than one square mile of land, except for the working men’s colonies which could hold a collective of several thousand acres.
Though folks living in Ellis County were excited about the plan, was Kansas going to have a growing new settlement of people who would embrace the Western life? No indeed. Grant’s plan was that everyone would retain their English habits and the amenities of English gentlemen. Of course, women weren’t considered in the plan, other than that they would accompany their husbands. They could also bring along their damask tablecloths, their lace and silver and continue to live as they had in England and Scotland.
There were several classes of people involved in the emigration. One was small farmers, then there were the younger sons of noblemen who could not inherit under British law. These men had become hard riders and hard drinkers and enjoyed game sports, but few knew how to run a business. Many had managed to accumulate wealth through family connections. They brought with them the bob tailed ponies used for fox hunting, and the superior attitude of the upper class.
Upon their arrival, free accommodations were offered in the Kansas Pacific Station Hotel until they might build temporary homes. Grant said he would provide at a reasonable price all lumber needed for temporary residences. Permanent residences were all to be of stone, the frame buildings being turned over to the hired help. There would be free schools, a church, a library and special train rates. He would keep a herd of high-blooded stock, cattle, horses and sheep, a supply of pure seeds, and steam cultivators such as were in use in England. None of these things were available to homesteaders.
Grant promised that sheep and cattle would grow fat on the buffalo grass and each man would be a lord over his own private kingdom. Since younger sons were more or less expected to go into the army or the ministry, the new scheme appealed to many as a welcome adventure. Some would come from their stints in the army, and this was the case with Lord Prescott, who served in Les Zouaves fighting against Napoleon.
One of the main reasons these English settlers liked this plan was that they found the restrictions of homesteading distasteful. They would not have been free to leave for extended visits abroad and would have been required to become American citizens. They were urged to go out and make money, then return to England to spend it. All hoped to become rich off the land.
Thus began the settlement of Victoria City, Kansas, where Wilda, her sister Rowena and her cousin Tyra arrived after a difficult year-long journey under the eagle eye of the Marguerite Chesshire. It doesn’t take Wilda long to grow to detest Lord Prescott, while Rowena soon loves him. Tyra goes wild in a Western way, and an outlaw known as Calder Raines complicates Wilda’s life when he agrees to kidnap her to save her from an unwanted marriage.
Kidnapping a lady, dressed in hoops and skirts that aren’t indicative to riding a horse, turns out to be more than Raines bargained for. Wilda isn’t exactly happy when she is introduced to the other gang members who are preparing to rob a bank in Hays City.
December 5, Wilda’s Outlaw will be available as an Ebook free on Kindle for five days, then will be priced at $2.99 until the official release of the print book February 13, 2013. A fun Christmas gift for anyone receiving a Kindle as a gift, or for those already enjoying one.