Carolyn E. Cook
Author of Historical Fiction
Travel back in time and experience journeys you'll long remember.
The past speaks to us in a thousand voices, warning and comforting, animating and stirring to action. --- Felix Adler
Come to fall, 1918, and stroll the peaceful, yet unsuspecting streets of Audelia, Texas. In 1863, grab a seat in the parlor of a Philadelphia rowhouse, while war rages between the states. Stand on a sidewalk in Washington, D. C., 1925, and look upward at the newly-built Lincoln Memorial. Visit a western town of 1875 and hear the drumbeat of horses' hooves. Take a Christmas tour of a restored Tudor Revival located on the edge of the Texas prairie and hear the whispers of its long-ago residents. Be a witness to fear and courage, struggle and success, heartache and joy. Stories are calling -- Sarah and Daniel, George and Eleanor, Lillian and Barnett, Stella, Buster, and a whole slew more.
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Below, read the summary and an excerpt from my newest novel. This one's set in the Old West and is a love story you won't want to put down. It's now live on Amazon, in ebook and print.
The Life and Times
of Lilly Quinn
A Tale of the Old West
Fleeing hazardous circumstances in New Orleans, Lilly Quinn arrives in hardscrabble and rough Minden Springs, a thrown-together town on the dry prairie of 1870's Kansas. She plans to continue her journey onward to San Francisco, but her chance meeting of Barnett Swan, the only lawman for miles around, gives her pause. She chooses to remain, at least temporarily. As Lilly says, "It was only the shortest of encounters, perhaps a minute, but on that much alone, I made the rash decision to retrieve my carpet bag from the stage and extend my stay in this dismal place. That marshal seemed to be worth investigating." Little does she know that the choice will determine the entire future course of her life.
Told in the voice of feisty and independent Lilly, the story encompasses many years and colorful characters. It is full of life, love, shootings, heroes, and villains, an un-putdownable saga of the Old West. Lilly reveals its myths, its sometimes brutal reality, and the way the landscape captures the imaginations and hopes of those who settle there. Or those who simply pass through.
“Carolyn E. Cook weaves together an intriguing, heartwarming story of the early West that also portrays an enduring love and romance. I laughed, gasped, and teared up as I got to know the resilient, inimitable Lilly Quinn. A thoroughly enjoyable read!” Barbara Deatherage, retired counselor and nurse
“I loved the characters of Lilly and Barnett, the funny lines they said sometimes, and the good advice they gave each other. When I finished the last page, I just sat in my chair and cried because the story was ended and I would miss those people. They’d become like friends.” Pat O’Hara, avid reader
Excerpt from Foreword and Chapter One:
Two months after we buried Lilly Quinn, Sheriff Dodson received a package from a woman in New Orleans, the same friend who had sent the telegram notifying about Miss Lilly’s demise. The sheriff looked over the contents of this package and straightaway brought it to me. A short note at the top of the box provided explanation.
June 17, 1904
Since the passing of my good friend, Lilly Quinn, I have been sorting her personal effects, as she had asked me to do. Recently, I came across a box of loose papers, all written in Lilly’s own hand. In looking through, I discovered that every page told about Minden Springs and the people she had known there, in particular a marshal named Barnett Swan. As much as I can tell, she must have worked on these stories ever since she arrived here back in ’93. In the years of our friendship, she had related some of these things to me. However, what is in this box is so much more. In my heart, I know she would want me to send the box to you. Her stories belong there in Kansas and not hidden in the attic of my New Orleans home.
Make of them what you will.
As I began to read Miss Lilly’s pages, her words brought back fond memories of my own, of former Marshal Swan and herself and the citizens, Doctor McCoy, Deputy Cyrus Nash, Hub Monroe, and Jessie Perkins, besides numerous others, those who peopled this town and caused it to prosper. My son read the pages, too, and his suggestion was to make a book of them. Then others could know about Minden Springs in the waning years of the nineteenth century. The Old West is no more, but I believe it should not be forgotten.
It has taken me a number of months to read and edit everything that Miss Lilly set forth onto paper. I did little to alter her manuscript. Here and there, I provided a word when the handwriting was not legible or the ink too faded. I arranged things in order, added chapter numbering and titles. The rest is all from Miss Lilly.
Stratford Brock, Editor
The Minden Springs Tribune
Minden Springs, Kansas
May 20, 1905
The Minden Springs Social
Truth Can Be a Brutal Friend
The day was chill and strong winds buffeted the stage. Since early morning, I’d rocked and bumped with it, all the while keeping my eyes averted from the other passengers, two low-lifes seated across from me. Now and then, they’d leer and attempt what likely passed for conversation for them, saying such things as, “Where ya headed, little lady?” And, “Got a fella waitin’ for ya?” And worse, “Bet ya’d be a real prize. What’s yar fee?” I made a point not to answer.
The next stop was in the town of Minden Springs, Kansas, and as the stage came to a halt, I rushed to get out the door, to place my feet on solid ground and be rid of the oafs for a brief while. The stage driver informed, “One hour’s break. If you’re traveling on, be back directly.” My fellow passengers aimed for the nearest saloon. I hoped they’d get falling-down drunk and miss the departure.
Well I knew to stay clear of scoundrels such as those two lumpkins. Since just past my nineteenth birthday, I’d been on the move, one town to another, and one state to another. By the current day, it was three years on, the end of March, 1871, and I’d learned plenty about the means to take care of myself.
In the cold, my shawl whipped about me, while I grasped a moment to gaze around the main thoroughfare of this Minden Springs. It all appeared to be put together in a slap-dash. Moreover, it was filthy-dirty, as welcoming as a family of wild boar. All I wanted was to take the stage out of this trash pit at the end of the allotted sixty minutes, albeit subtracting the derelicts with whom I’d been riding. My eventual destination remained San Francisco.
To pass the time, I ducked into the dry goods store and perused the merchandise, none of which I had money to buy. As I turned the pages of a book, the door swung open and a man came in, the tallest man I’d ever seen.
He wore a duster and his hat was large-brimmed. His boots were covered in grime from the street. From behind, I could tell his shoulders were broad of beam and his hands huge. He stepped to the counter, his footfalls pounding the floor, and the clerk said, “How can I help you, Marshal?” The big man’s voice boomed, “Need some matches and a pound of coffee.”
"Coming right up.” The clerk went off to fetch the requested items. Meanwhile, that marshal removed his hat and scratched his massive head. I was awed. His hair was the color of a gold watch, shiny, thick, and wavy. Then he turned and glanced in my direction. His face boasted a hefty moustache that reached to his jaw and the look from his eyes was piercing.
What woman wouldn’t swoon over such a man? I wanted to examine him further, but the clerk returned in a twinkling with the marshal’s purchases.
“Thanks, Mister Thompson,” he stated in that loud voice, put on his hat again, and strode out.
It was only the shortest of encounters, perhaps a minute, but on that much alone, I made the rash decision to retrieve my carpet bag from the stage and extend my stay in this dismal place. That marshal seemed to be worth investigating.
After a single night in the hotel, I was hired for employment at the Red Oak Saloon, one of three on Main Street. The proprietor told me he liked the looks of my auburn hair and hazel-green eyes. I started work immediately and listened attentively to talk in the place. Soon, I learned that my wherefore was a strapping six-foot-four and went by the name of Barnett Swan. Thus began my frequent observations of the most striking man in town.
I heeded that, without exception, he wore a dark hat, vest, and trousers, and on colder days, a dark duster. However, in shirts, he apparently preferred color. I’d seen him in one that was blue and another that was a kind of faded red. If he owned more than those two, I didn’t know. Always, his badge was pinned to whichever shirt, designating him as The Law in town. From talking with the fellows at the bar, I learned he held two employments, federal marshal and city marshal. Between the obligations of those, he was kept most busy.
Also from the fellows, I acquired some middling knowledge about the town. The railroad had arrived here only a couple years before and already, it was a journey’s end for cattle drives. These drives brought misbehaving cowboys and troublesome men of all sorts. I found work at the saloon was unpredictable, some nights quiet as books on a shelf and others raging as a herd of wild horses. While I was familiar with the likes of rowdy cowboys, unmannerly drifters, and hard-drinking ruffians, the ones in Minden Springs seemed to be twice as loud and four times as bad.
There was just one reason I hadn’t quit, purchased the stage fare, and set out again for San Francisco, the very same reason I’d decided to remain in the first place.
Day after day, I tried to be conspicuous to that Marshal Swan and pulled out whatever feminine wiles were in my arsenal, things I’d gained along the way of my, thus far, short life. At times, I’d give him a brilliant smile and tell about the high living in New Orleans. He didn’t seem interested. I’d gaze at him sidelong, and chuckle if he said anything humorous, which was, admittedly, rare. Often, he’d still walk away without so much as a by-your-leave.
In due course, I determined to try a different tack, ignore this untalkative fellow and converse with the deputy, Cyrus Nash, who was certainly not the brightest mind in the house, but sweet, nonetheless. I’d also strike up with Doctor McCoy, who had the reputation for being ornery, although he was nothing but pleasant with me. I’d even sidle next to the cleanest-looking fellow in the place, all the time watching to see if Marshal Swan noticed. Then I’d say with a wink, “Hello, stranger. How’re you? I could sure use a drink. Buy me a beer?”
With all these performances on my part, one would think that the marshal might have shown envy toward the other fellows and perhaps behaved with a little attentiveness to me. Did he do either? He most assuredly did not.
Inevitably, I was out of ploys and snares, and abandoned everything, the false smiles, the overdone friendliness with the deputy, the doctor, and fresh-faced cowpunchers. Then came the full wonderment. Of an evening, Marshal Swan meandered into the Red Oak, stepped right to me, and proclaimed in his resonant voice, “You’re looking mighty pretty tonight, Lilly.”
From then on, the man’s behavior towards me began to change. While he still offered the occasional one-word answers to my questions, the old “Yep,” or “Nope,” he started telling me more about the most recent stage robbery for which he had to gather evidence or the most recent body found murdered in an alleyway. He’d ask, “Lilly, what do you know about the newest girl Jim Rusk hired here? I have suspicions about her.” Or he’d query, “Lilly, what do you think about that drummer living by the river? Is he on the up-and-up with the town folks or just out to fleece them?”
He even commenced to provide some protection for me, such as the evening one of the louts at the Red Oak took the liberty of putting his hand on my bare shoulder. I gave Barnett a nettled glance for him to understand my irritation and he right away ordered the brute, “Hands off the lady.”
So this was where we stood at that point, several months into my residing in Minden Springs. We were beyond mere acquaintance and into a simple friendship. It had taken root about as fast as a sprouting acorn which meant, at present, it wasn’t much more than a twig. But I was ever hopeful.
The morning came when I was taking my regular stroll on Main Street, studying the things displayed in shop windows. Right in the dry goods store was a sign that caught my eye. The Minden Springs Social, I read. It was to be held on the Saturday evening ten days hence, in Joe Wilson’s barn just on the outskirts of town. The Ladies Society of Minden Springs, a group of which I’d not heard, was sponsoring the event as a fundraiser for the town school, which needed books, desks, pencils, rulers, and the like. There would be dancing, refreshments, and raffles of donated things. Admission tickets would cost twenty-five cents per person and raffle tickets would be five cents each, all rather stiff for my purse.
Even so, I was most intrigued by the idea of a social, not having ever attended one myself. I assumed the usual etiquette required that an unmarried lady had to be invited by a bachelor gentleman. I knew at least several of those, but the only one I wished to escort me was Barnett Swan and no doubt in my mind, the words of asking would never come from his mouth. No matter, I thought. I’d have little difficulty in turning the table around and inviting him, which is exactly what I did the next time he showed his face in the Red Oak.
“Lilly, I’m no good at dancing,” he insisted. “Or at socializing.”
“You’d do just fine,” I said. “We could have a good time. Just think about it. That’s all I ask of you for now.”
A couple days later, I brought up the social again.
“Aw, Lilly, Saturday’s a big night at the Red Oak. You’d have to work.”
“Not so,” I maintained. “Jim says he expects the big crowd’ll go to the social. We’ll likely be empty of customers.”
Barnett looked at the floor and gave no countering.
“Keep thinking about it,” I said. “I bet you a beer the right answer will come to you.”
Another day, I brought out the subject when I paid him a visit in the marshal office. Before I could finish my query, he put up his palm and suggested, “I’ll take you fishing on Saturday instead. That’d be an amusing afternoon.”
“Not on your life,” I retorted. “A few trout cannot compare to dancing and refreshments.”
He ran a large hand through his hair, rumpling it badly. “But what would you wear, Lilly? Your saloon dress is a bit, shall we say, revealing for usual folks.”
“I have my day frock, very prim and proper. Sure, the ladies of the Society will have lovely gowns, but most women don’t own such things. I’ll fit right in.”
He eyed me squarely and a peculiar uncertainty came upon his features. I couldn’t decipher his thoughts, though I should have attended more to that dubious expression.
By Friday, I still wasn’t assured of my escort, but Barnett met with me on the boardwalk, tipped his hat, and gave his winsome greeting. “You’re looking pretty today, Lilly.”
“Don’t try to flatter me, mister,” I grumbled. “I need an answer from you about tomorrow. What do you say?”
He took a step back and hooked his hands on his belt. “I guess you’re bound and determined to go, aren’t you?”
“Indeed I am. Don’t you worry about the cost. I can pay for my own.”
He nodded, though his face demonstrated that doubtful look again. I kept my vision locked onto his, neither of us speaking. People had to walk around us and one boy even dashed between us. After what seemed to be a decade, Barnett shifted his feet and said, “All right. We’ll go.” He didn’t smile. “And you will not pay for yourself.”
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If you've already read Lilly's story, the first draft of Minden Springs, Book 2, is almost finished. Of course, there is a lot more work to do, revisions being the most important, but here is a two-paragraph excerpt to get you wondering.
The time was half-past ten at night. My heart thumped as the train wheezed to a stop beside an ordinary depot. A sign on the building proclaimed the location as Minden Springs, Kansas. I wanted to dance a jig, but had too much trouble straightening my limbs and getting myself up. A dance was out of the question. Soberly, I moved to the door and stepped down. A porter who looked like just another cowboy was hauling my trunk from the freight car. I would need to ask the whereabouts of a hotel and arrange for the trunk to be brought there.
Considering I'd been riding the rails for over thirty-three hours, it was an amazement I could still exercise my brain. I felt haggard and done-in. Nonetheless, before I did anything else, I walked far enough to get a long look down the street. A few lamplights shone dimly, buildings in shadows. All was quiet, no one about, and I whispered, "Lilly, I'm here."