An early example of self-determination and girl power, Blanche—now Bonnie—travels alone to the Wild West, where she’s presented with the chance of a lifetime and the possibility of love—both rife with challenges that test her drive, purpose in life, and sense of self.
The Bonnet Book diary and other historical items in the novel are real-life touchstones in this gripping, inspiring story based on the life of the author's grandmother.
KATY Texas Special
Oklahoma City • Mid-May 1910
As the KATY pulled into the Oklahoma City depot at seven o’clock, Blanche excitedly gathered her carpetbag and purse and hurried down the train steps. St. Louis had a big-city train station; this western city barely had one at all. Wearing her tall black boots, she stepped carefully around the muddy puddles, thinking the storm last night must have also passed through Oklahoma City.
As she walked outside the depot, a buckboard wagon lurched around the corner, splashing the puddles in every direction. The driver, a woman with curly red hair and a wide-brimmed leather hat, stood up, tugging on the reins. The wagon came to a halt a few feet from Blanche, who was startled by not only the commotion but the horse’s loud snorts.
Off jumped the redhead, her wild hair flying behind her. She wore a long, dark skirt, a tailored pale-blue blouse with long sleeves and a white collar, and a dark-blue scarf. It was casually draped around her neck and knotted across her chest.
“Pardon me. Might you be Miss Blanche Spencer?” asked the redhead.
“Why, yes! Who are you?” The woman reminded her of Annie Oakley. She was square-shouldered and square-jawed, with an athletic body.
“I’m Mrs. Ruby Keyes, wife of Willis Keyes. Mr. Robey of St. Louis, a former customer of my husband’s, sent us a telegram asking that we meet your train. I am relieved that you arrived at the time listed in the telegram. Some trains get delayed by Indians, collapsed bridges, or stranded cattle on the tracks.” Blanche’s eyes grew wide with Ruby’s list of predicaments her train had been lucky to avoid. “Let’s get you in the wagon.”
Ruby set down two metal cups of coffee, two tin plates of food, and a jar of berry jam.
“Welcome to breakfast in Oklahoma City!” She smiled and lifted her cup.
Blanche smiled back and gratefully spread jam on a piece of toast. She then began eating the warm eggs with bites of toast. After her first sip of coffee, she breathed deeply, dropped her shoulders, and began to settle into her first Oklahoma meal.
“So, Miss Blanche, what is your job? And who sent you to Oklahoma all by yourself?” asked Ruby.
“I am trained as a milliner—a hatmaker—and I love my work! Apparently Oklahoma City is looking for hatmakers, so my St. Louis boss sent me. I was eager to travel, partly to distance myself from a certain beau. So, I enthusiastically accepted this assignment, and here I am!”
“Such a long trip to make by yourself! I came here two years ago—also from St. Louis—with my husband, Willis. He runs a new livery stable here in Oklahoma City. We also have a small ranch outside the city. I breed horses and train some of them for rental and sale at the livery stable.”
Ruby sipped her coffee and continued.
“Oklahoma City is a boomtown in this new state, and our stable has almost more business than we can handle. Willis also races horses at the nearby racetrack at Wheeler Park, a few blocks from here. Most of our friends are horse people, and horses are pretty much the currency of our lives. Very different from hats!”
“I’ve never had a girlfriend stay over in our new house. My horsewomen friends are all older than me and rarely come to visit. This frontier city is attracting many adventuresome men but few women. Your visit is like having a cousin or a sister! I am twenty-eight years old and an orphan. I was very lonely as a child. I got introduced to and fell in love with horses, and I married Willis so I could ride his horses!” said Ruby, blushing. “I am happy to have you as a new friend, and I will see to it that you learn to be self-reliant like me.”
Ruby embraced Blanche in a loving hug.
Blanche smiled sleepily as Ruby shut the door. A new prairie sister, she thought, as she drifted off.
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