December 15, 2012 by Pamela Nowak
Female telegraphers were not common, but they did exist. While browsing a used book store, I happened on a published diary of one such woman, Ma Kiley (Ma Kiley, the Life of a Railroad Telegrapher, Thomas C. Jepsen, editor). Though Ma Kiley began her work in 1901, her story included so many fascinating incidents that it wouldn’t leave my head and I knew I had to create a telegrapher heroine. Thus, Sarah came to be.
But, I also knew I wanted Sarah to be a strong, independent woman and the suffrage movement provided a great vehicle. That Colorado actually held a suffrage referendum in 1877 was perfect. There were so many great incidents and interesting people that I was not able to use them all. I did take liberties with history by bringing Susan B. Anthony and her trainload of suffragists but I am hopeful my readers will forgive me for that.
The Kansas-Pacific Railroad did hire female telegraphers and had a station in Denver. Some line drawings and photos of the building remain and can be researched through the Denver Public Library and Denver Historical Society.
A great deal of information exists about Bill and Elizabeth Byers. Bill was a founding father of Denver and a civic leader. Elizabeth was known for her involvement in social endeavors and gracious leadership. There were indeed rumors about Bill and Hattie Sancomb and I sprinkled them into the story to give Bill and Elizabeth depth but chose to treat them as gossip. Today, in Denver, the public can tour the Byers House, the one built a few years after CHANCES was set. The Folly is long gone, torn down as Denver expanded.
Mattie Silks was one of several colorful madams who owned establishments along Holladay Street, or The Row. Their stories comprise a chapter in Anne Seagrave’s Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West. Mattie was a wonderful addition to Daniel’s story and just exactly what he needed to question his definition of morality.
If you are in the city, explore the Denver Historical Society, the great house museums, and the incredible downtown historic walking tour. There are fascinating details all around us which can inspire stories. Look for them and weave them into your own imagination.