, Forever Love
, Single Woman
, Fort Worth
, Mail-Order Bride
, Wives In The West
, Hell's Half Acre
Nineteen-year-old Hannah Browning hurried down a narrow road in St. Mary’s, Georgia, anxious to get to her favorite magnolia tree and sit beneath its canopy shade, inhaling the fragrant flowers. She couldn’t wait to see this month’s copy of Hearts and Hands, a publication which carried photographs and descriptions of eligible bachelors on the Western frontier who were seeking wives.
She’d only seen three issues so far, not including the one she’d found hidden in her cousin’s dresser drawer when she went to retrieve a bonnet for her. So far, she’d never found anyone worth replying to. They were all either too old or too ornery sounding for her, and she wanted to find a husband who lifted her up in spirit, as her Pa had done for her Ma.
Hannah liked to get lost in the descriptions. She loved hearing about the faraway cities and responsibilities that were being asked of the readers. Hard-working young woman, 18-25 sought for 35-year-old widower. Must love living in Kansas and be willing to help raise twin boys, age 10. Cooking, cleaning, and raising chickens required. For a moment, she would imagine their lives – what they sounded like when they spoke, how they looked, and their temperament. Were the boys sweet and helpful, or the kind who would be experienced at picking a switch off the tree for punishment? How many chickens were running around the farm?
She hurriedly flipped through the pages, glancing around at the pictures and descriptions to see if anything stood out to her. That’s when she saw him. It was an unusual picture because it wasn’t just one man, but a group of five, all standing together on the front steps of a church. The others in the picture stood upright and stiff, looking directly at the camera. But he was looking away, as if some pressing thought or concern was stealing his attention.
Fort Worth, Texas
Local pastor seeks to help single men of congregation settle down with good-hearted, Christian women ages 18-30. Must be willing to stay in the Western frontier on the Chisolm Trail with married couple as chaperones and work for up to six months during courtship, in exchange for room and board as well as a small stipend. Please reply with brief background and photograph.
It was the first group listing Hannah had ever seen! A quiet voice filled her heart as she whispered out loud, “Please, dear Lord, give me a sign that this is the right journey for me – one that will guide me to a loving husband who I can start my life with and serve as a faithful wife.”
She took one last glance at the man looking away in the photograph. What was he thinking about? she wondered, imagining all the troubles that might be brewing behind those distant eyes. She plucked a magnolia off the tree and tucked the publication under her arm as she hurried home. Ma would scold her for being late. She was expected to be home right after work so that she could help with the household chores. She’d been working for the Patrick family for three weeks now, trying to help Ma with her weekly budget.
Ever since Pa died, Ma had been rationing the funds slowly, and Hannah could see how worried she was every time she had to spend a penny on anything. Hannah felt bad that she wasn’t betrothed to anyone yet. She hated being a burden on her ma and her little sister, Jenny. But there just weren’t any eligible bachelors around. The Civil War had initially caused a drought in husbands, and now all the young men Hannah’s age had gone West in search of fortune on the frontier.
Sometimes she wished she were a man and could take control of her own destiny. She loved adventure. Pa had taught her how to ride horses and read. He was a savvy businessman, and she’d soaked up every encounter he had with people when he was trading. He let her tag along and always shed light on how to read people. “He puts on airs in public, but if you noticed, he had beads of sweat up on his forehead