MAIL ORDER BRIDE! I understand why men living in the Old West would order a bride, but why would any woman want to be a mail order bride?
Chris Enss, were these women unattractive or elderly?
(Readers, Chris Enss is an American author and screenwriter. She has written more than 20 books on the subject of women in the Old West, and has collaborated with producer Howard Kazanjian on four books, including two about Roy Rogers and Dale Evans).
Answer – When gold was discovered by James Marshall in 1848, it let loose a flood of humanity onto the frontier. The number of marriageable men in the east was substantially lessened and the numbers were even further decreased by the time the Civil War ended.
In late 1865, women were looking for husbands and the bulk of the men to select from were based in the west.
Men and women primarily advertised for a spouses in a newspaper called “Matrimonial News.” There were old maids and some not-so-pretty ladies who seized the opportunity to find a husband by placing an ad.
Likewise, there were male spinsters and homely gentlemen who wanted a wife and employed such methods to find someone who wanted to marry them. The time was right and there was a unique opportunity for everyone who was lonely to find someone to spend their lives.
Q. Did couples write back and forth before the man ordered a bride?
A. Men and women did correspond, but the mail service was quite different then. If couples exchanged more than four letters before a proposal of marriage was made that was considered by most as a long courtship. It took months for letters to get from point A to point B.
Q. Today, men and women searching for a partner on dating sites often misrepresent themselves, even to their looks and age. Did the same thing happen with mail order brides and their grooms? Then what!!?
A. There were many people who misled potential spouses via the mail. There were laws against women misrepresenting themselves in mail order ads. Law enforcement agents would frequently circulate flyers warning men against falling for women who had false breasts and bolstered hips.
Men were under no obligation to honor their proposal if they discovered the woman they advertised for was any less than what they claimed to be.
Women would often ask for a certain sum of money to be settled on them before they left their homes in the east to come west. They were allowed to keep that sum of money if they discovered the men who answered their ads were nothing like they wrote in their letters.
Q. What’s the best and worst stories about mail order brides?
A. Mail order bride Eleanor Berry represents both the best and worst of the venture. She traveled from Gilroy, California to marry the man of her dreams living in Nevada County, California.
While en route the stage she was traveling on was held up by four masked bandits. The bandits demanded the passengers in the stage surrender their personal possessions. The thieves ransacked the passengers trunks as well and took whatever they wanted.
Eleanor pleaded with the men to let her go with her things. She explained she was on her way to get married and needed her belongings to start a new life. One of the masked bandits gave her permission to go along unmolested.
She was relieved, but still shaken by the time she reached her future sister-in-laws home. Eleanor quickly changed into her wedding garb and was ready to walk down the aisle at the appropriate time in the wedding ceremony.
As the two were exchanging vows she realized that her voice sounded familiar. After a brief moment it occurred to her that this was the same man bandit who robbed the stage.
Eleanor ran out of the house and left the area. She returned to Gilroy where she tried to commit suicide. The humiliation of the event was more than she could bear.
Q. You seem to have had a wide-ranging career. Can you tell us something about that?
A. I always wanted to write. I initially wanted to write comedy, but fortunately I got a break writing westerns and I am grateful. I’ve been blessed to have met a number of exceptional authors who write westerns and can’t imagine ever wanting to do anything other than what I’m currently doing.
I’m a member of Western Writers of America and the organization is dedicated to keeping western literature alive. It’s a great organization and the members are some of the finest people I’ve ever met.
Q. What are the two most fascinating facts you’ve discovered in your research, and or the two most fascinating characters?
A. How about one of each? Kate Rockwell is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve had the privilege to write about. She was a talented entertainer in the Northwest in the mid-1870s. She was known as the Queen of the Yukon, the toast of the sourdoughs. She sang and danced and made a fortune in the trade.
She married poorly, however. Her two-timing husband took her money and invested in Nickelodeons. He left Kate a pauper and married a younger woman. Kate died with nothing and her no-good spouse became well-known as a theatre manager.
Now for the fascinating fact – pioneers trekking across the plains believed that you could preserve the life of your teeth and improve your breath if you gargled with your own urine.
Q. Is your brother really in federal prison?
A. My brother is in federal prison. He has been there for more than eleven years. He has Parkinson’s disease and it’s been hell. I would do anything to save him.
My brother can hardly hold his head up now, the disease has so taken over. He was beaten and raped and that exasperated the disease. He’ll die in prison, but not before he goes completely blind and is unable to walk.
A. I liked to make people laugh and can usually find the funny in most everything. Like a lot of comics, the inspiration for wanted to make people laugh came out of great sorrow I experienced as a kid. I made fun of the circumstances as a way to deal with it.
Q. Do you still work in comedy?
A. I work a lot of humor in with the presentations I do about women of the Old West. I enjoy entertaining and making history fun to learn. I haven’t performed in a comedy club for awhile. That’s such a hard life and I just didn’t have what it takes to continue on with it.
A. I began writing professionally in college. I penned a short story about my brother Scott. He was sick and I wanted to put in writing what it was like to watch him struggle. The story received high praise from my teacher who encouraged me to continue writing.
I’ve written for newspapers, television news, comics, commercials, and magazines. It has led me to writing westerns. I’m grateful.
Long live the west.