My husband’s great-grandmother came from Ireland, and some of what we learned about her in our family history research provided some of the most dramatic elements of Pioneer Instinct. Here is an excerpt from this Irish immigrant heroine’s story. Except for the time-traveling enemy, the homesteading story in Wyoming is very much true to her life.
From Pioneer Instinct: Eliza pushed the broad-brimmed hat back off her forehead with the shove of a gloved hand. From the back of her tall mare she looked over the rolling hills at animals that dotted the landscape and grazed in McWhorter’s pastures.
It had been a good spring. There were at least two hundred new calves in little circles of safety, where the mothers watched over them. The kids and lambs were a little more active, leaping and weaving within the flocks of goats and sheep.
The snowstorms last year had taken a toll on the spring newborns, but this year the early spring rains turned the pastures lush with green despite it being only March. A good year indeed.
A flash of movement caught her eye. Something circled in the grass, upwind from the animals, and stalked closer. She squeezed her knees and lifted the reins, signaling Fancy to step forward. She and her horse moved quietly, as one, across the uneven land.
There, a flash of red and white. A fox, ready to feast on one of her newborn lambs. Not today. Not if she had anything to say about it.
As soon as the fox was in range, before the wind shifted and it caught her scent, Eliza pulled her rifle from its scabbard on her saddle. “Steady, Fancy,” she whispered as she stood in the stirrups. With practiced ease, she leaned forward against the horse’s neck and took aim.
Fancy stayed stock still. Even when the shot rang out, and the closest animals started and scurried away, her well-trained mount didn’t move. The fox dropped where it stood. Eliza sat back in the saddle, holstered the rifle. She gave the reigns a little shake and they moved toward the fox. She wanted to see it up close.
The head shot had gone through almost perfectly. Eliza had a good eye, McWhorter had told her time and time again, and her early morning and just-before-dark trips around the pasture edges often yielded one or more of the predators that stalked his animals.
She turned her head away from the fox to the animals now peacefully grazing and smiled to herself. Some of these would be her animals soon.
Eliza dismounted and took the knife from the other side of the saddle where it was sheathed. She made quick work of skinning the fox, not in the least bit squeamish with the task at hand.
Mr. McWhorter had made the right choice, setting Allen up with indoor tasks to pay his passage off, while he allowed Eliza the freedom she’d always craved to work the animals and the land. It was unconventional, certainly, and the moment her day on the range came to an end her trousers were replaced with a dress.
Mrs. McWhorter would not allow her at her dinner table otherwise.
Eliza didn’t mind at all. As much as she thrived outdoors, she likewise enjoyed the fact she was a woman now. A woman full grown.
She shook out the fur and eyed it. Yes, this fox fur would bring a good price at market.
It had been three years now since McWhorter had bought their time from the other farmer and taken them both under his wing. Eliza thanked God every day that Papa had gone back to Wyoming. When they finished their time here they would both be well-trained for life on the homestead there. There was a large part of her that never wanted to leave the warmth, protection, and love of the McWhorters, but something– something compelled her to embrace her future in a land she’d never even seen. It would not matter if her father had squandered his coin or not, because Mr. McWhorter had promised Eliza could take enough animals to start their herds in Wyoming. Her head spun when she thought of the value of the promised livestock. A bull or ram or boar and ten females for each species. A fortune that would let her build up enough not just to survive but to thrive in their new life, without having to depend on her father or brothers.
She smiled to herself. Mr. McWhorter told her and Allen, repeatedly, they had earned every hoof.
She draped the skin on a fallen branch to dry, then lay down beside it to watch the clouds drift across the sky, and allowed herself the rare time to simply daydream.
Eliza frowned. How odd, she could see herself, as if from above her own body. She had the strangest sensation of being far away. Her eyes, half open, slipped shut and images — clear, sharp images — of a place she’d never been flashed through her mind.
A man and a woman lay in a large bed. The room they were in looked ancient. Walls of stone had sconces drilled within them with candles that provided a flickering golden light. Tears ran down the woman’s cheeks, and the man — her husband? — lay behind her, clutching a long wound on his arm. Eliza’s heart pumped hard against her breast as she watched the scene play out. A dream, but not like a dream she’d ever had. The images switched from the man and woman to another woman in the room. She could not make out her face, but her hair looked burnt auburn in the candle light. The woman held a long, sharp looking sword in front of her, the blade tip dripping red with blood. A bright light filled the room, and drew all eyes its way.
Eliza woke with a start and sat up, relieved to see she was here, where she belonged. A chill slipped through her and she wrapped her arms around her middle. Dream or vision or something else? It had seemed — felt — so much more real than a dream. She shook her mind away from the disturbing images and stood. She grabbed the mostly dried pelt and threw it over the back of her saddle then swung onto Fancy’s back.
Change simmered in the air. Something more than the upcoming journey to their new home. Eliza did not understand exactly why she felt thus, but she was sure of it. As she and Fancy trotted toward her current home, Eliza shivered despite the hot afternoon sun. The odd dream had signaled a shift in Eliza’s world, and pointed her into a new direction, one that pulled her to her destiny.