Local author releases book on Wild West mail-order brides
Matchmaking websites, such as eHarmony and match.com, are merely the latest in an old industry that profits by connecting couples.
“We think today is the only time in history that people made a fortune off the single,” said Grass Valley author Chris Enss. “That’s not the case. This has been going on for decades. Where you leak, the world hangs a bucket.”
In the Wild West, optimistic men and women pioneers expressed their desire for a spouse in advertisements that ran in popular frontier newspapers and magazines, Enss explains in her most recent book “Object Matrimony: The Risky Business of Mail-Order Matchmaking on the Western Frontier,” which hones in on the serious business of finding a husband or wife by mail order.
The book launches nationally today and a celebration will be hosted at the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Museum.
As Enss explained it to The Union, “Object Matrimony” examines how men who were desperate to strike it rich or eager for free land went West alone, sacrificing many creature comforts — only after arrival would some realize their longing for female companionship.
Advertisements in newspapers for companions was one profitable solution.
“Most people in the Gold Rush era didn’t make their money finding gold. They made their money off of people looking for gold,” Enss explained.
“The matrimonial business made money off people looking for a spouse.”
Some specifics stand out to Enss. In her book, she highlights more than a few, such as a 29-year-old man, who described himself as 5 feet, 9 inches tall, blonde and can laugh for 15 minutes. He wrote that he is looking for a pretty girl, between the ages of 17 and 20, who will laugh with him.
“There were people, just like today, that would misrepresent themselves,” Enss said.
Another declares that the writer is fat, fair and has no plans of losing weight.
The book also examines the process and business of getting a sought spouse to the West, from the ads and correspondence to arrival and marriage or rejection.
Enss is the author of more than two dozen books on the subject of women in the Old West.
While historical evidence of men can be found in vast quantities, few recounts offer specificity when depicting the roles and perils of women, Enss said.
“Primarily, I write about women of the Old West,” Enss said. “You can find in general that women took care of the wagon trains or the children, but specifically … their stories tend to get lost in history.”
Her favorite book is “Thunder Over the Prairie,” Enss said.
The book chronicles the posse of lawmen, including Charlie Bassett, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp and Bill Tilghman, as they patrolled the unruly streets of Dodge City, Kan., then known as “the wickedest little city in America.”
Director Walter Hill is adapting the book into a movie, Enss said.
“The Old West was adventure, it was promise, it was going where no one else had been. These were people who wanted a better life and were not afraid the venture beyond the Mississippi (River) to have that.”
Her biographies of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “The Cowboy and the Senorita” and “Happy Trails” respectively, have been adapted into a musical that is poised to debut on Broadway next spring and starring multiple Grammy Award winner Clint Black.
As for drawing inspiration for her work, Enss said Nevada County has provided her with everything she needs to write her books.
“We’re just passing through history, but this place is history,” said Enss, a former KNCO radio station news reporter.
“I am very pleased to be here,” Enss said. “If I hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t have been able to write all these books.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.
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