I have been asked many times if Horse Creek, Wyoming is a real place. There is a tiny town in the southern part of the state named Horse Creek, and there are at least a dozen creeks of varying sizes all over Wyoming with the name. However, my Horse Creek is fictitious. It was created when I wrote Shadows in the Wind, my first book. As most writers, I drew from my own life. You see I grew up on one of those little Horse Creeks, on the ranch that my great grandparents homesteaded in 1887. The ranch I created for the Cantrells was set on that same land with an incredible view of the Big Horn Mountains and a pretty little creek running down through it.
That’s where the similarity ended. The Cantrell ranch was probably three times the size of the Lampman ranch. We raised cattle and sheep, but the Cantrells in that first book were into horses. I couldn’t very well have a creek called Horse Creek running down through a horse ranch; it’s just too obvious. Nor could I use the name of the real town. Shell wasn’t even there yet. So I combined the towns of Shell and Greybull, put a railroad through it and named it Horse Creek.
Since the town of Horse Creek was established in Shadows in the Wind, all I had to do for Murphy’s Rainbow was back it up sixteen years and think what it would have been like in 1869. I also had to move it south a hundred and fifty miles or so because Kate Murphy arrives via the Oregon Trail. I suppose the closest place would be Sweetwater Station in central Wyoming. There was never a town there, though I’m fairly sure it was the site of a Pony Express station at one time. Currently, there is a modern rest area. If you ever have the chance to stop, look around and image a tiny town with a saloon, a general store, and a saloon.
Issue # 2:
Katharine had paid little attention when the wagon train had passed the town the day before. Now she saw it was small and unpromising. Only a store, a blacksmith shop, a saloon, and a handful of houses dotted the prairie.
Sam stopped in front of the blacksmith’s shop and dismounted. Tying the horse to the hitching rail, he looked up at her. “I’ll go see about boarding your stock.”
Stock? Katharine felt a hysterical bubble of laughter rise in her throat. Four chickens and a cow? She and Bryan had had such wonderful plans when they’d started out. They’d have a beautiful little farm where they could raise a family. But there had been no babies, and their other cows had died on the trip. Now Bryan was gone too, along with everything from their life together. Katharine looked around. This is the pot of gold at the end of Bryan’s rainbow, a dismal little town in the middle of nowhere?
Sam returned with the smith. “Mr. Jones here says he’ll keep your animals for the milk and eggs.”
Katharine forced a smile. “Thank you, Mr. Jones.”
“Glad to oblige. The young fella told me about yer husband.” He shook his head. “To die in a fire like that. Must have been awful for you.”
Katharine turned shocked eyes to Sam and encountered a warning look.
Luckily, Mr. Jones didn’t seem to expect an answer. “You better go to Mrs. Cline over at the store.” He gave Katharine an uncertain look. “She ain’t the friendliest, but I reckon she’ll take you in for a few days. Might want to leave this young feller here, though.”
Katharine started to get down, but Sam grasped her around the waist and swung her to the ground. While Mr. Jones took Katharine’s animals to his corral, Sam untied her things from the saddle. “I told him your husband knocked an oil lamp over in the wagon,” he whispered. “Folks tend to get stirred up about cholera.”
Accepting her meager bundle from him, Katharine gave him a direct look. “I know, Mr. Perkins. I’ve already seen it.” Without another word, she turned on her heel and walked away.
Sam stood watching her for several long moments. With a shake of his head, he remounted and set out to catch up with the wagon train.
The store had an almost military neatness about it. Nowhere was there any of the friendly clutter that usually characterized such places. With a cursory glance at the only other customer in the store, Katharine approached the woman who stood ramrod straight behind the counter. “Are you Mrs. Cline?”
“Mr. Jones over at the blacksmith shop said you might be able to give me a place to stay for a few days.”
“Oh, he did, did he? And who might you be?”
“I’m Mrs. Murphy.”
“Mrs.?” She eyed the bundle in Katharine’s hand. “Where’s your husband?”
“Th-there was a fire,” Katharine stammered. “M-My husband d-died.”
“Hmph! A likely story.”
Katharine blinked in surprise at the woman’s unexpected hostility. “I…it would just be until the stage comes in, and I can pay.”
“There’s some things money can’t buy, and respectability is one of them. The saloon is the place for the likes of you.” She folded her arms across her narrow chest. “As though I can’t tell a decent woman from a piece of dance hall trash.”
“Save your breath, Mrs. Murphy,” said the other customer, a tall redhead, as she walked up and slapped a packet of needles down on the counter. “Once Mrs. Cline makes up her mind to something, she don’t change it.” She placed a few coins next to the needles and flashed Katharine a friendly smile. “The stage don’t come to Horse Creek, but you can stay with me for a day or two.”
Mrs. Cline gave an audible sniff of disdain and pushed the woman’s change across the counter as though afraid of making contact with her.
The redhead gave a low chuckle as she tucked her money and the needles into her reticule. “It’s always a pleasure to do business with you, Mrs. Cline.” She turned and strolled from the store with Katharine following behind.
“Self-righteous old biddy,” the redhead muttered as soon as the door closed behind them. “Any fool can see you ain’t from no dance hall.” She gave Katharine a sympathetic look. “Looks like you’ve had a rough time of it, though. Heard you tell that old prune you lost your husband. I’ll wager it wasn’t very long ago.”
Katharine nodded, barely able to speak around the knot in her throat. “L-last night.”
“You poor thing.” She sighed as they started across the street toward the saloon. “Sure hope I’m doin’ the right thing, taking you home with me.”
“If you don’t have room—”
“Lord bless you, honey. It ain’t that.” She glanced at the saloon and made a face. “Most folks would say you shouldn’t even be talking to me, let alone staying with me.”
“Mostly ’cause of the work I do.”
“I don’t…” Katharine stopped in confusion. They were no longer walking, and the redhead was studying her as though waiting for something. With a start, Katharine realized they were standing in front of the saloon, and that her new friend was watching her closely. The revelation must have shown in her face, for the redhead’s expression became cold and distant.
“Well,” Katharine said quickly. “I don’t guess a few nights in a saloon will damage me much. Never cared what anybody thought about me anyway. You’d be amazed how many narrow-minded people in the world looked down their noses at us because my husband was an Irish Catholic.”
“It ain’t quite the same thing,” the redhead said dryly. Then she grinned. “The name’s Rosie. Welcome to the Golden Spur.” Katharine returned the smile and followed her through the swinging doors, praying she wasn’t making a big mistake.