Characters, Location

Tanner’s Ford prior to 1870 (backstory)

Finan MacDougal, Chief of his Clan, meets his second wife in Fort Laramie when his first wife, Phoebe, dies birthing his daughter. Needing someone to feed the babe, he rides out to look over the Indians huddled around the fort. He finds a widow who gave birth a few days earlier but the child died. Sunbird feeds Finan’s squalling infant as he brings them back to the fort. She tells him of a land full of tall mountains and abundant grass by the river that flows through a valley. After discussing it with Benjamin and Louisa Elliott, Finan’s travelling companions, they agree to head there. Finan takes the unusual step of marrying Sunbird as she is a daughter of the Bannock Tribe’s Chief. He plans to create a dynasty and a wife will give legal son to inherit.

The two couples arrive at the valley in 1846. They immediately build a cabin, which they share with one-year-old Trace Elliott and four MacDougal children: Finan (5), Hugh (3), Gillis (1) and baby Louisa.

They live there alone, building an identical cabin across the valley for the Elliott family, until John and Patsy Tanner’s loaded wagon breaks down before they can ford the river, in 1858.

In 1861 Ben and Louisa Elliott die of a spring fever, leaving their seven children as orphans. Trace, Simon, and Jack stay on the Rocking E ranch while daughter Jessamine (12), identical twins Ben and Ranger (11), and Patrick (10), move in with the MacDougals, who also have seven children of their own. Chief MacDougal sees the Elliotts as cheap hired hands.

Finan Junior (now 21) and Hugh (19), hate their stepmother, her two sons Ross (14) and Nevin (12), and the Elliotts, though Finan already has his eye on tomboy Jessie as his future wife.

Everything changes in 1863 when gold is discovered in nearby Grasshopper Creek. Fed up with the miners hedging him in, Finan decides to find a larger ranch in Texas. Helped by gold provided by Trace, he brings everyone  but his oldest three sons to Texas. Fin, Hugh, and Gillis remain to tend the MD Connected ranch.

Trace is nearly killed at sixteen when he defends a woman from three attackers. Miss Lily nurses him back to health after he’s roped around the neck and dragged behind his horse. He lives, but his voice box is broken and, when he speaks, it sounds like a crow. Childless, Lily acts as an aunt to the three orphans.

1865 brings the end of the War and a rush of men eager for gold, as well as those, male and female, even more eager to fleece them for everything they have.

By 1870 Tanner’s Ford is an established town with a mayor, banker, town council, sheriff, deputy, an assortment of townspeople and ranchers, and the riffraff that always haunts the dingier parts of town.

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