Monday, March 25, 2013

Jean Henry Mead and NO ESCAPE

Small world. Jean Henry Mead worked for The Hanford (California) Sentinel in the 1970s. She lived about two miles from me and yet in a town of some 15,000 people our paths never crossed. Only recently we met online and now we’re blog buddies. Small world, indeed.

For years now Jean has lived in the West—the real West—digging into its history and heritage and setting her novels against its colorful landscape. Her newest release is NO ESCAPE, THE SWEETWATER TRAGEDY. It’s based on the hanging of a falsely accused couple in Wyoming Territory during a dispute between cattlemen and homesteaders.
A prolific writer, Jean Henry Mead is a Press Women’s national award-winning journalist and author of the Logan and Cafferty mystery/suspense series as well as Wyoming historical novels, children’s mysteries and nonfiction books. She began her career as a news reporter and later worked as a photojournalist. She also served as a news, magazine and small press editor. Her magazine articles have been published domestically as well as abroad, and she’s published 19 books, half of them novels.
NO ESCAPE can be purchased in print and on Kindle at

I came across contradictory reports during the mid-1980s about the hangings of a young Sweetwater Valley couple while researching a centennial history of Wyoming. Reading old microfilmed newspapers published a hundred years earlier, I noticed articles written in Cheyenne about homesteaders who ran a rural bawdy house and accepted rustled cattle for their services.
The six wealthy cattlemen responsible for the murders of Ellen Watson-Averell and her husband James claimed the murders were justified. But when they came to trial, all the witnesses had disappeared or died. The case was thrown out of court instead of being investigated.
The Cheyenne Leader, a newspaper controlled by cattle barons, railed against homesteaders, whom they said were rustling the poor cattlemen’s stock, so vigilante law was necessary. The Rawlins newspaper, however, said that James Averell was well thought of and considered a good citizen. Averell had been appointed postmaster and justice of the peace by Thomas Moonlight, the Wyoming territorial governor.
James’s wife, “Ella” had worked as a cook for the Rawlins House and was known as a kind and caring young woman. But the couple made the fatal mistake of filing homesteads on Albert Bothwell’s hay meadow, government land the cattleman had been grazing his cattle on for years without paying it for it. James apparently signed his and Ellen’s death warrants by writing letters to the editor of the Casper Weekly Mail, complaining that cattlemen were gobbling up homestead land for 75 miles along the Sweetwater River.
I didn’t want to end the book with the hangings so I decided to add another character, Susan Cameron, a young woman from Missouri, Susan is a composite of some 200,000 single women homesteaders who attempted to prove up on their own land. She filed for land next to the Averells, placing her own life in danger along with her veterinarian friend, Michael O’Brien, and three boys whom the Averells had taken under their wings.
Upon their deaths, Ellen was vilified and called “Cattle Kate.” News of the hangings spread worldwide and the murder of a woman in Wyoming Territory was publicly condemned, yet Ellen’s own father believed the lies spread about her and forbade his family to speak her name again.
A number of films have been produced and books written about the outlaw, “Cattle Kate.” I’ve even read poems and heard cowboy songs sung about her. The full truth didn’t surface until George W. Hufsmith was commissioned to write an opera about the hangings and spent the next 20 years researching the subject. Thanks to George’s research and that of my own, I was able to complete my novel, No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy.
Thanks for hosting me, Pat. I enjoy visiting your site.
Jean’s website: