Bertha Muzzy Bower (1871-1940), aka B.M. Bower, was the first woman Western author to achieve wide success. She achieved this success under the pseudonym of B.M. Bower, with many fans thinking she was a man. Her first publishers banned her from telling the truth; afraid it might spoil the market for her work. She was named as one of the top 20 authors in a reader’s poll in Adventure, but she’s all but forgotten today, with a Wikipedia article of less than 10 lines to her name.
She wrote of strong women characters (something I like) with a humorous touch. She did not idealize the pioneering western life, which she described as “ninety percent monotonous isolation to ten percent thrill”. Her first book, Chip of the Flying U, was made into a movie four times in 1915, 1916, 1926 and 1939.
She described the western expectation of eastern women in Chip of the Flying U: “There’s just two bunches to choose from. There’s the Sweet Young Things, that faint away at sight of a six-shooter, and squawk and catch at your arm if they see a garter snake, and blush if you happen to catch their eye suddenly, and cry if you don’t take off your hat every time you see them a mile off.” … “Well, she’s the other kind then—and if she is, the Lord have mercy on the Flying U! She’ll buy her some spurs and try to rope and cut out and help brand. Maybe she’ll wear double-barreled skirts and ride a man’s saddle and smoke cigarettes. She’ll try to go the men one better in everything, and wind up by making a darn fool of herself. Either kind’s bad enough.”
And then goes on to puncture it a few pages later, when she amazes the hero, Chip on by shooting a coyote and then doing a post-mortem on the corpse. “Look, here’s where I hit him the first time; the bullet took a diagonal course from the shoulder back to the other side. It must have gone within an inch of his heart, and would have finished him in a short time, without that other shot—that penetrated his brain, you see; death was instantaneous.”
She wrote humorous, realistic westerns, drawing on her experiences in Montana. Despite her troubled personal life (three marriages, none worked out; by the end of her life she had lost all the money she made), she wrote more than 60 books, and many short stories, some of which appeared in Adventure.
She wrote humorous, realistic westerns, drawing on her experiences in Montana. Despite her troubled personal life (three marriages, none worked out; by the end of her life she had lost all the money she made), she wrote more than 60 books, and many short stories, some of which appeared in Adventure. Her books are still very readable today.
Many of her books have now fallen out of copyright and are now available to read free online (links below, pick a format you like). Lonesome Land The Flying U Ranch The Flying U’s last stand. A very detailed biography of her has been published by her granddaughter, available here.