Welcome back to the 2022 Inspirational Western Women series.
Happy August! Hope you’re getting through the heat.
I’m excited for you to meet my featured gal for this month.
Do you like grit? Inspiration? Women to never give up? Then you’ll surely enjoy . . .
Thank you Carmen, for inviting me to join your blog and a warm hello from our ranch in the tri-state corner of Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota.
The temperamental seasons of our “North Country” can be fickle and at times brutal, especially to those of us involved in the livestock industry. This area has been in a three-year drought and the last of April (during calving and foaling season) we were hit by two blizzards in a row. Today as I write, it is raining, water is running into parched reservoirs, and the prairie is coming to life. We live eternally hopeful here, knowing the same winds that bring drought also bring moisture.
We always have another chance.
I grew up on a ranch in western South Dakota living close to the land. I have raised my own four sons the same, to live at peace with the natural cycles of life. As ranchers, we love our rugged country and the changing seasons. Some say I am crazy to enjoy winter, but I truly do.
The earth slumbers under the snow and awakens to new life with such splendor, Oh, that I shall be like the seasons of the north.
My Dad was an old-time cowhand that chased wild broncs out of the Cheyenne River Breaks as a boy. He grew up amongst the last of the 1902 cowboys and drew pictures like Charlie Russell on anything, from napkins to feed sacks. My mother also grew up along the Cheyenne River in SD and wrote poetry from early childhood. She was known as the Cheyenne River Cowgirl when she was often published in the early Dakota Farmer magazine.
In later years both parents were inaugural members of the South Dakota Cowboy Poets. Mother wrote several historic novels based on old family diaries dated from the 1830s forward. I feel blessed that I inherited a small piece of each of my parents’ talents as an artist and writer.
More importantly, I believe they instilled a work ethic and love of the land and the cowboy way in me and my four siblings. If we got bucked off a horse as youngsters, Dad would say, “Get up and get back on. The pain is a long way from your heart. I’ve always tried to heed his words and get back on when things go south. (Laughing).
In January 2008 I was given a diagnosis I could not live with.
I have learned that labeling anything gives it power, so I won’t give print to the word.
But the experience with death taught me much.
One dark night during an emergency operation I had an out-of-body or death experience. At the same time, the trauma center was enveloped in a tornado watch and all electricity was cut, I lay alone in the darkness and watched a group of my horses blaze past the long row of windows. It was like a slow-motion movie reel with lightning flashing, steaming hides, and water splashing up from pounding hooves.
I could see every hair, every nostril flared, and name every horse from my ranch remuda. Their manes and tails whipped wildly in the winds as they raced past. At the end of the string of horses came an unfamiliar paint galloping into the lightning-torn sky. Then the thunder roared and all became still.
I lay back in the darkness and heard an audible voice, “Remember this moment! Your friends delivered to you strength and miracles. YOU WILL NEED THEM.”
That night I chose to live beyond the doctor’s reports, beyond statistics, beyond my wildest dreams. I changed my mind about how God shows up and how he always has healing for us if we can embrace the strange way he sends his love and perfection.
That was thirteen years ago.
I am in the process of writing the story of Miracle, the paint mare that galloped past my deathbed window to arrive in the form of a wee filly that same spring when I returned to the ranch. She was a twin that survived the odds of being born in a huge pasture and left behind after her mother birthed the larger twin brother.
With the coming of the foal named Miracle, everything in my life began to change. I had always been an artist and closet writer but I had focused on raising my now nearly grown sons. With ranching, gardening, and raising and training reined cow horses, I worked late nights to squeeze my creative life in.
Opportunities began to drop in my lap in the most synchronistic ways and I began to move with the flow of new life. My vision cleared and many things fell by the wayside.
When Miracle was a two year old, I broke her to harness and began going on a series of wagon trains that reenacted the old stagecoach routes to Deadwood, SD. On one 250-mile- 17-day ride from Miles City, MT to Deadwood, I became friends with the wagon master and we began sharing our local histories.
My home town of Belle Fourche, SD, (even though I am a Wyoming resident) was a wild frontier cowtown in its day and has the distinction of the first bank ever robbed by the infamous Kid Curry. It was 1897 and he was a broke Montana cowpuncher looking for 4th of July money with some cowboy partners.
My new friend, the wagon master, happened to be from Kid Curry’s hometown and had bought up most of the ghost town of Landusky, MT and restored it. He shared of a woman falsely accused of being Kid Curry’s lover back in 1895, and how it ruined her.
The more he talked the more passion for her stirred me, as if I had known this woman in another life. I asked, “Why has no one ever written this story?”
My friend said, “Why don’t you?”
That was in 2010, and thus began my search for Lucy Tressler Thornhill.
I’ve traveled the wild Missouri Breaks, walked, ridden, and driven Kid Curry and Charlie Russell country, been to every homestead, walked to the outlaw hideouts, discovered long-forgotten graves, and eventually followed Lucy’s trail to Arizona.
There I discovered her second family. I have introduced descendants to their courageous ancestor and ultimately, restored a family legacy, all because of being given the Miracle of another chance.
As I chased Lucy, I began to see my own courage and resilience growing. She taught me about loving and giving second chances to others. She taught me how to walk away from painful situations and start fresh without sorrow; how to have a sense of humor, and to quote her and her second husband’s lifelong friend, the famous Montana artist, Charlie Russell, “Laughter is a good medicine.”
Today, I am so thrilled to say that I found the truth of Lucy’s life and rewrote history for her and her descendants. When I began, her great-granddaughters told me I would never find enough to write a story on Lucy, let alone a novel. Today I have published three in the four-part series, “Of Men and Horses”, the life and times of Lucy Tressler Thornhill.
In researching Lucy and the men who loved and hated her, I discovered that in finding Lucy I was uncovering the long-hidden characters of her friends, Kid Curry, and his brothers. Their descendants have so endorsed the role the Currys play in my historic series on Lucy that they have asked me to write one on them in the same manner I have Lucy’s.
In essence to set the story straight on Kid Curry aka Harvey Logan and the wild, cowboy brothers of Montana’s Missouri River Breaks. I have been given access to the Logan family archives, including never before seen photos and proof that Kid Curry was not killed in a botched train robbery nor is he buried in Parachute, Colorado as the Pinkertons claimed.
The reason I have illustrated all of the novels on Lucy is because I have not yet discovered a photo of her. I have thousands of documents and photos of every other character in her life story but didn’t feel right using them without the picture of Lucy. I have many written descriptions of her that helped in creating the Lucy of my illustrations. I dream of getting Lucy’s story into the right hands to become a movie.
Rubbing shoulders with fellow writers is so important and I am humbled to belong to Women Writing the West, Wyoming Writers, Western Writers of America, Bear Lodge Writers, and Black Hills Writers.
My writing is about research and research is about real people.
I love that every story has a different version intertwined and hidden from what shows on the surface. We are all living the life we’ve been handed, playing the cards we were dealt. When Lucy came to Montana in 1880, she couldn’t have dreamed she would be a heroine in a 2022 tale of her life.
I just bet she would say, never give up and ride every second chance horse you can get your hands on.
You’ll surely find your Miracle!
Dawn Newland is a western author, artist, and weaver of the threads of history. She lives on a ranch at the three-state corner of Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota. She has four grown sons and three grandsons. Raising livestock and riding horses still play an important part in her life. When she is not helping on the ranch she is in her museum-studio doing historic research, illustrating the west, and writing.
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