By Michelle Shocklee
In To Heal Thy Heart, my novella in The Mail-Order Brides Collection, Phoebe Wagner travels from her home in Kansas City to the rugged New Mexico Territory to meet the stranger she intends to marry. But in 1866, train travel was not yet available in that part of the country, so Phoebe—or any mail-order bride of that day—would have been left with little choice. She must board a dusty, uncomfortable stagecoach for the 700-plus mile journey that would take nearly two weeks, assuming they didn’t encounter problems with the coach, the horses, or the weather. Luke, her intended groom, would have paid approximately $250 for her fare, and the route she would have taken is the famous Santa Fe Trail.
From 1821, the Santa Fe Trail served as a trade route between the United States and Mexico. Settlers used it as well, often facing terrifying situations including attacks from various Indian tribes, brutal weather conditions, and swollen rivers. But like Luke and Phoebe, those early settlers were willing to take the risks in order to be part of something new and fresh and exciting.
Growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I often heard stories about the Santa Fe Trail. My family took many drives up the trail, now a highway, passing the same tree-covered hills and grassy fields as those brave pioneers. Even as a child my imagination ran wild, and I’d wonder about the people who traveled in wagons whose wheel ruts are still visible in some places. Who were they and what drove them to leave their homes and loved ones to come to a wild, untamed land?
Although Phoebe and Luke’s story is fiction, I would not doubt that many mail-order brides took to the Santa Fe Trail in search of true love. Did they find it?
To Heal Thy Heart by Michelle Shocklee
1866, New Mexico
When Phoebe Wagner answers a mail-order bride ad that states Confederate widows need not apply, she worries what Dr. Luke Preston will do when he learns her fiancé died wearing gray.
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Michelle Shocklee is the author of The Planter’s Daughter and The Widow of Rose Hill, the first two books in the historical romance series The Women of Rose Hill. She has stories in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books and writes an inspirational blog. With both her sons grown, she and her husband of thirty-plus years enjoy poking around historical sites, museums, and antique stores near their home in Tennessee. Connect with her at www.MichelleShocklee.com