Women, Whiskey, and Horse Racing
As an author of mainly historical romance, I often rely on actual people, places, and events for the inspiration for my characters. In my latest release, Lover for Ransom, the Reconstruction Era South served as the backdrop for my setting, Byrne’s End, a fictitious horse farm in Thompson’s Station, Tennessee.
Most Civil War romances center around spoiled belles and cavalier soldiers who live on vast plantations, but although cotton was king in Alabama and Georgia, in reality, Tennessee, especially Middle Tennessee, was known for sour mash whiskey, tobacco farming—and horse breeding.
Prior to the Civil War, horse breeding farms and racetracks dotted the lush landscape of rolling green hills. Almost everyone with means raised horses for either transportation, farming, or sport. In the early 19th century, Middle Tennessee (even more so than Kentucky) was the center of the horse breeding world.
Even personal disputes were often settled on the outcome of horse races and President Andrew Jackson was not immune. In 1806, he raced Truxton against Joseph Erwin’s Ploughboy and when a yet another difference of opinion ensued, so did a duel in which Erwin’s son-in-law, Charles Dickinson, was shot and killed by Jackson.
These frontier-era Tennesseans took their horseracing seriously.
One of Andrew Jackson’s good friends was a man named James Jackson (no relation) who was one of the founding fathers of my hometown, Florence, in North Alabama. Stories of James Jackson and his prized horses of the antebellum Forks of Cypress Plantation are legendary in my area. In fact, many of the winners of the Triple Crown series can trace their lineage back to James Jackson’s prized horse, Glencoe.
In Lover for Ransom, the hero, Ransom Byrne, is a former Confederate cavalry officer who was brought home to his family’s horse farm, Byrne’s End, to convalesce during an illness at the height of the War Between the States. While recovering, Ransom spreads sickness throughout his family and his teenaged sister is rendered blind as a result.
After the war, a guilt-ridden, Ransom resolves to hire a teacher from the famed Perkins School for the Blind to tutor his sister. Once Jenny had come to terms with her handicap, he’s vows to turn his back on horse breeding, leave Byrne’s End, and go West where he won’t be faced daily with the horrors his illness visited upon his beloved family.
When Yankee teacher, Cathleen Ryan, shows up with her suffragist ideas and plainspoken ways, Ransom is forced to keep a watchful eye on the unpredictable Northerner. In doing so, he rediscovers his zest for horse breeding, for life, and even for love.
And the story wouldn’t be complete without a couple of horsey secondary characters, one of which, tries to steal the show.
Their mirth didn’t appear to reach Cathleen, who kept turning anxiously toward the barn. She worried her bottom lip, a little habit Ransom had grown to appreciate.
His fingers itched to tear down that severe chignon and release her inky locks. Her gaze flicked to his. She drew in a quick breath and then looked away.
Charles emerged with String Bean. The gangly animal looked dumbfounded, but enthusiastic to finally be wearing a saddle. With his abundance of buck teeth and two overly large mulish ears, the horse reminded Ransom of one of the Bumpas brood that lived down toward Mt. Pleasant. None of the Bumpases were known for their looks—or their smarts. Neither was String Bean. But the animal was eager to please and had never bucked a rider.
Ransom glanced at Cathleen. There was always a first time for everything. Hopefully, today would not be one of those firsts for String Bean.
“Oh heavens!” Cathleen exclaimed. “He’s beastly!” Read the rest of this entry »