Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dare to Dream

Heidi M. Thomas’s new novel, Dare to Dream (third in the “Cowgirl Dreams” trilogy), not only invites the reader into the western experience of ranching and the decline of women’s roles in rodeo in the 1940s, but it also shows the effect of WWII on family life in Montana.

The 1940s in Montana by Heidi M. Thomas

My grandparents, Otto and Tootsie Gasser, lived through tough times in the 1930s. They were trying to make a living raising their draft-cross horses while the gasoline engine was taking over farming and traveling. After the terrible drought of the early ’30s, the grasshoppers arrived, eating everything but the corral posts. Grandma, Grandpa, and Dad, who was six years old, had moved more than 20 times, finding grazing for their horses. In 1932, they trailed their herd 400 miles from Cut Bank Montana to Salmon Idaho over the steep mountains at Lost Trail Pass, to find feed for their horses. (This story is told in Follow the Dream.)

The 1940s ushered in a somewhat better time. The family sold their horses, leased a ranch at Ingomar, Montana, raised cattle and did some farming. The economy was still tough, however, and farmers and ranchers lived a hardscrabble life.

However, WWII, while bringing rationing and devastating losses to Montana families, also brought the end of the Great Depression to the state. The military needed lumber for building; copper for ammunition, telephone and telegraph wires; coal for heat, and oil for fuel. Between 1942 and 1945 the military bought about $25 million worth of Montana’s industrial and agricultural products.

The government became the biggest food buyer and purchased large amounts of Montana’s high-protein wheat and beef, and some farmers were excused from military service so they could stay home and produce food.

The long drought of the “dirty thirties” also ended and 1943 was the best year farmers had seen in a long time.

While my grandparents didn’t own their ranch and the ground was not the best in the state for raising crops, they were undoubtedly able to reap some of that profit from the military buyers. After a decade of wandering from one abandoned homestead to another, trying to feed their horses, they must have felt rich in comparison during the 1940s.

This decade was bittersweet, however, with the horrific battles and losses of the war. My dad enlisted in the army in 1944 and was sent to Germany where he served as part of the American Occupation forces when the war ended. I’m sure my grandmother must have been terribly worried—not hearing from him for weeks or months on end, with mail service by ship, and not knowing exactly where he was—if he was in the midst of battle or somewhere safe.

Dare to Dream describes that family drama, ranch tradition, rodeo disappointments and triumphs against the backdrop of WWII.

Montana cowgirl Nettie Brady Moser has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles on the journey toward her dream of being a professional rodeo rider. In the 1920s she struggled against her family’s expectations and social prejudice against rodeo cowgirls. During the Great Depression, marrying Jake Moser and then raising their son took priority over rodeos. And then she was devastated by the death of her friend and mentor in a rodeo accident.

In the spring of 1941, Nettie, now age 36, is regaining her heart and spirit, and she is determined to ride again at an event in Cheyenne, Wyoming. To her dismay, the male-dominated Rodeo Association of America enforces its rule barring women from riding rough stock and denies her the chance to ride. Her fury at the discrimination can’t change things for women—yet.

Based on the life of the author’s grandmother, who rode rough stock in Montana in the 1920s, this sweeping rodeo saga parallels the evolution of women’s rodeo from the golden years of the 1920s, producing many world champion riders, and shows its decline, beginning in the 1930s and ending with World War II in 1941.


Heidi M. Thomas grew up on a working ranch in eastern Montana. She had parents who taught her a love of books and a grandmother who rode bucking stock in rodeos. Describing herself as “born with ink in her veins,” Heidi followed her dream of writing with a journalism degree from the University of Montana and later turned to her first love, fiction, to write her grandmother’s story.

Heidi’s first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, has won an EPIC Award and the USA Book News Best Book Finalist award. Follow the Dream, a WILLA Award winner, is the second book in the Cowgirl Dreams series about strong, independent Montana women. Dare to Dream completes the trilogy.

Heidi is a member of Women Writing the West, Professional Writers of Prescott, is also a manuscript editor, and teaches memoir and fiction writing classes in north-central Arizona.
She is an avid reader of all kinds of books, enjoys the sunshine and hiking in north-central Arizona, where she writes, edits, and teaches memoir and fiction writing classes.

Married to Dave Thomas (not of Wendy’s fame), Heidi is also the “human” for a finicky feline, and describes herself primarily as a “cat herder.”

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to Writers of the West, Heidi. Wishing you a successful blog tour.