by: Rebecca Taylor
“So what if I’m a girl as you’re so often telling me?” asked Kaelin Hollister from behind her father’s desk where she was working on the accounts for his men’s clothing store.
“It’s dangerous, Kaelin,” replied her father, Paul Hollister, “1878 is no time for a girl or woman to want to run a ranch. Especially a girl from St. Louis.”
“You let Denver go. He’s been travelling the west for years,” retorted Kaelin.
“That is different. It is only normal for boys to crave adventure. Your brother is a typical boy.”
“Come on, Dad, set me free. You are limiting me to housework. You and most of the other men in this town are limiting the women of today. No one has the right to own a map that says ‘Boundary Line’ between men and women’s work.”
“It doesn’t matter. You’re nineteen, a woman, and you don’t belong on a ranch. Seriously, Kaelin, you on a ranch? You wouldn’t last two minutes. Besides, it is indecent a woman with all those men. Your mother didn’t go gallivanting around.”
“I would last more than two minutes after I learned. Dangerous, you say. Mother didn’t do it and she’s still dead.”
“That isn’t the point, anyways, how do you expect to last more than two minutes on a ranch?”
“I’ve been reading books on the subject and I’d like to find work on one.”
“As the housekeeper perhaps.”
“Just wait and see. That map in your mind is going out the window.”
“Don’t count on it.”
Paul Hollister ended up eating at least a few of his words because that same night Kaelin ran away from home. She took every cent she had, bought new clothes, which consisted of a blouse and jeans and boarded the train west. She got as far as Topeka, Kansas on what she had. However, she wasn’t far enough west to get the job on the ranch she knew she just had to have. Luck was in her favour, she was sure of that when she saw the sign looking for a newspaper reporter to go west and report on ranch life. Immediately she went to see Adam Ogilvy about the job. At first, he was sceptical.
“Miss Hollister,” he said, “can you really do this because this is a job for men.”
“So people keep telling me, but I can do it. I am going to break through the boundary that men have set for all women,” replied Kaelin.
“We’ll give it a try, but if it doesn’t work out, you’ll have to go elsewhere.”
“I have nothing to lose except my dignity,” retorted Kaelin. There was no way she could let this go wrong.
Mr. Ogilvy gave her a travelling allowance, portfolio assignment and sent her west. She first stopped in Stratton, Colorado; it looked like an interesting ranching community. She asked around about different ranches in the area and then she borrowed a horse from the livery stable (she knew how to ride even though she had grown up in the city of St. Louis. Her parents both loved to ride and often her family had gone on rides through the outskirts of town). She followed the road out of town to the Cavendish Ranch, the Bar C, dismounted and tied her horse to the hitching post and approached the ranch house.
A young man answered the door and asked her in.
“Hello, I’m Tom Cavendish, how can I help you, ma’am?”
“I’m Kaelin Hollister; I’m here on behalf of the Topeka Times, reporting on life in the west.”
“Oh,” said Tom slightly taken back, “how come you chose this ranch?”
“Randomly, I took the train to town and then just took the road out of town, this ranch was easy to find.”
“What kind of information are you looking for?”
“Information on ranching life, that will give seasoned ranchers something to talk about and readers unfamiliar with ranching a take on ranching life.”
“Why did they send you, ma’am, surely there was a man for the job.”
“I assure you that I am capable,” replied Kaelin, her grey blue eyes holding their ground.
“Have you done a lot of pieces on the subject?” asked Tom, his brown eyes showing puzzlement and interest in Kaelin’s responses.
“No, it is actually a new series the Times is running, I saw an ad for a reporter when I was in Topeka, applied and here I am.”
“What kind of information are you going to need and how much time would I have to spend on this if I say that you can do an article about some aspect of the Bar C?”
“Well what have we here?” asked an older man with greying hair approaching.
“This is Kaelin Hollister; Dad, she’s a reporter with the Topeka Times writing about life in the west.”
“The main focus being ranching,” interjected Kaelin.
“Well, fancy that, a woman reporter, especially one writin’ about man’s business Lady, I think you are in the wrong business,” he replied chuckling.
“I’ll be the judge of that Mr. Cavendish. Women are just as capable as men, sometimes more so, they actually think before they speak,” replied Kaelin, the words she said surprised her but she had to show him that she wouldn’t back down just because she was a woman.
“She’s got spunk; don’t go tanglin’ with this one son, I think she may just be out of your league. Where are you from, girl?”
“I grew up in St. Louis.”
“A city gal at that.”
“I have lived in the city, that’s true but it’s the country side in the west that has been drawing my attention for a while now.”
“What do you want with the Bar C?”
“I was wondering if you would allow me to experience ranching life so I could write about it here.”
“Well, I don’t know,” replied Mr. Cavendish, “the boys in the bunkhouse don’t need any distractions from you and well I don’t know if you could rightly keep up?”
“I can keep up, don’t worry about me.”
“I don’t know I’ll have to think about this?” answered Mr. Cavendish.
“If you don’t want the publicity that the Topeka Times can give you that’s fine, I’m sure that there is some cattle rancher out there that will be more than happy to have their enterprise in the news. The Topeka Times has a wide market; it could bring you some prospective cattle buyers.”
“If you were a man I would yes in a minute but being a woman and all -.”
“Has nothing to do with anything,” finished Kaelin even though that wasn’t what Josiah Cavendish, well known Stratton rancher was going to say. “Just because I am a woman doesn’t make me any less capable. If you don’t want the chance to be in the Topeka Times just say so and I will be on my way but when you see how well this goes don’t say you didn’t have the opportunity.”
“Is it just one ranch you are going to be writing about?”
“Hard to say, to start with yes and we’ll see how the Times readers like it, if the series goes well I may write about other ranches too in order to give the readers a diversified idea of the west.”
“Did you come out here on your own from St. Louis?”
“Yes, I did, I’m not afraid of the west or its challenges. Some day I am going to own a ranch of my own.”
“You might not think that when it’s freezing cold and you’re driving cattle in the blowing snow not knowing where you’re going or when there’s a drought and you haven’t got enough water for your hundreds of head of cattle, your horses or your family.”
“We all must endure hardships, Mr. Cavendish, in the east, the west, wherever we are in the world, none of us are going to get anywhere free or easy, some may have it easier than others but it is those who work for what they want that get the most enjoyment out of it.”
“There’s something about you, Miss Hollister that is captivating, I’m going to give you a chance. Why don’t you come in and join us for supper, the missus will like the company and we can discuss your articles some more.”
“Alright, that will be fine.”
The next morning, Kaelin, was up bright and early, to her surprise Claire Cavendish was all for her assignment and said that Kaelin must stay at the ranch; they had plenty of room and she wouldn’t want to miss any of the action. Tom took the mount she had borrowed from the livery stable back into town and chose a suitable ride for her from the ranch stock. Stock that knew about being around cattle and would be trained for the line of work she would watching and maybe even participating in, at least she hoped she would be able to participate, although she hadn’t said anything to Mr. Cavendish about it. Kaelin knew enough about his scepticism not to give away her whole reason for coming west. The newspaper job had just been luck, something that would get her close to what she wanted, because as much as she wanted to work on a ranch, she knew that a woman walking up to a door and asking for a job was a very long shot. Tom took Kaelin for a ride around the ranch, showing her where the animals grazed and the expanse of land which made up the Bar C. Later in the day, she stood by the corral with her notebook open and pen out watching the cowboys break horses, trying to describe the motion they made, the horses’ fighting spirits and the men’s unwillingness to give up on a horse as they got up from being thrown repeatedly.
Most of the cowboys were wary of Kaelin, especially the fact that she someday wanted to be “one of them” and own her own spread. Kaelin felt so scared inside that she didn’t know what to think, all she knew was that she could not mess up her assignment or Mr. Ogilvy would have someone take her spot, a man, and then she would be back at square one. She wanted to make it on her own, on a ranch more than she had ever wanted anything before, under no circumstances did she want to go back home to her father in St. Louis and tell him that he was right, it was too hard and too dangerous for a woman to make it in the west. She had left him a note, explaining that she had to try and that he had better come around to the idea of her having her own ranch and a life of her own someday. She wasn’t going to stick around St. Louis going to parties and waiting for someone to propose to her and then end up keeping house and raising children for someone because she wanted more out of her life.
As the days went by, Kaelin wrote and sent her pieces back to Topeka, she received repeated letters from Mr. Ogilvy telling her what he did and didn’t like about the articles, some of them he ran and some of them he trashed and told her to rework them. A lot of the time, he scoffed at himself for hiring a woman. He ran her articles under the by‑line K. Hollister; he wasn’t going to have other people laughing at him like he laughed at himself for even considering hiring Kaelin. He made sure that she kept any comments that could give away her gender out of the papers and wondered what the people of Stratton, Colorado were thinking of him and his paper. He knew that it could be an interesting topic for some of the society feminist papers but it was not for a well‑established paper like the Topeka Times, which counted on its male readers to make it a success.
Kaelin and the Bar C cowboys got to know each other better and slowly they began to become friends, some began to stop regarding her as a reporter and others as a woman as she became a “member” of the crew. She got to use the branding iron and brand the calves and some of the hired hands were teaching her how to rope fence posts even though she was extremely bad at it, often getting herself mixed up with the lasso or hitting one of the men but she laughed and so did they. Deep down inside Kaelin knew that one day she was going to have a ranch of her own and she was going to call it the Star K. Then she hoped her father would be proud of her and not consider her dreams a folly. However, for the time being she was content reporting on the ways of the west and experiencing everything from branding, round ups, haying, and bronc busting.