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May 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

White clouds scud across the blue skies of Kansas. An ocean of green grass spreads out below and I can imagine how the pioneer wagons with white tarps once mirrored the procession of cumulus clouds. In a modern car the going is smooth, but in a wagon the path was not easy. Wagons wore ruts and packed the earth so hard, grass doesn’t grow in some places even today. Ravines and creeks were dangerous, and pioneers often drowned crossing rivers. My idyllic vision of Conestogas crossing the prairie is far from reality.

Yet there’s a reality often overlooked in the western expansion of the US — the perspective from women who came west. Just as I’m driving the car in our mini RV train of sorts, women often managed the reins of the wagons. At the end of the day after traveling, I can still feel the movement of the road. I’m sure the wagon drivers laid down at night feeling the sway and jostle of their conveyances, too. But what’s significant is what’s omitted from the pioneer diaries and accounts. According to one historian, as many as 90 percent of the women who came west were in one phase of pregnancy or another. There were plains so flat and wagons so many, I wonder how women found privacy for the most personal of functions?

A community of women would have been important. They could look after one another and best understand feminine needs. But what about those on the fringes? I often think of Nancy Jane Holmes as a feminine rebellious spirit. But how rebellious could her gender be? Evidence indicates she had a child out of wedlock and later lived with a man as a common-law wife. She grew up on the prairie and I imagine she learned to hunt and fix game for meals. She was more hunter than farmer. Did she ever ride with the buffalo hunters? What did she think of the groups of women who passed through in the wagon trains? What did they think of her, or say to her?

For men, the westward expansion was more adventurous. In their prime, they were not burdened by bodies meant for fertility. They didn’t experience monthly fluxes, pregnancy or nursing an infant. They were free to roam, explore and be independent even with families in tow. If men were single and in a group, often they were pushing longhorns to Kansas from Texas or serving as soldiers in the US Cavalry or frontiersmen who scouted for wagon trains and hunted buffalo.

Driving across the lone prairie, I wonder at how to breakthrough the stereotypes of these past experiences, to acknowledge what was common and likely, yet imagine the unrecorded exceptions. History has documented James Butler Hickok, Wild Bill, to the minute detail. There’s no new evidence of his experiences, yet I think there’s much left to say about them by looking at the other people he interacted with at Rock Creek. Especially the women. Historians have turned wild imaginations toward Sarah Shull, and yet have virtually ignored Nancy Jane Holmes (or Jane Wellman). She was on the fringe of what was typical of pioneer women. She was more of a frontierswoman. And that’s where the story gets interesting.

Kansas provides rich history, and tomorrow my research here begins.

For the challenge, I’m thinking about the longhorns who also once spread across the plains. The word longhorns evokes notions of cowboys and cattle, which featured later in Wild Bill Hickok’s life. It’s also the name of western steakhouses, bars, football teams and a type of cheddar cheese. Dig deep enough and you’ll find some obscure term for computer technology. It’s the same idea with history, and I look forward to digging.

May 25, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a that includes the word longhorn. You can go with any of its meanings or make it a name of a person or organization. Cheese or cattle, technology or place, what can you create from the western icon? Go traditional or new; go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 30, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 31). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Myths of Longhorns (from Rock Creek) by Charli MIlls

“Ever see cowboys riding the trail with their longhorns?” Jesse asked.

Sarah was tucked in a blanket, sitting on Jesse’s porch. Shulls Mill squatted dingy with lumbering dust and brick buildings. Not the crisp colors of the prairie. “No,” she replied.

“But I thought Hickok was Marshall of the biggest cowtown.”

“That was later. I saw plenty of oxen and some had long horns.”

“I pictured longhorns on the prairies.”

“Buffaloes. I once saw a herd so large the ground shook.”

“Weren’t you afraid of Indians?”

“Jesse, there’s much about the west not in those dime novels you read.”



  1. “Cheese or cattle.” *snorks* 😀

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hee, hee! Actually sounds like a style of gourmet burger now that I think of it! 😀

      • Fun as this one sounds, I believe I’m going to lay out this week. The end of school year crazy, plus a four day weekend (complete with two days of yard sale), plus a huge backlog of work for the classes I’m taking (thanks to the yard sale) has me in a bit of overwhelm this week. Need to get my bearings again. I’ll look forward to reading, though!

      • Charli Mills says:

        This can be the busiest weekend of the year! No worries, Lisa. The Ranch will be here, waiting for the Riders!

  2. Reblogged this on ladyleemanila and commented:
    Charli’s challenge 🙂

  3. Norah says:

    Ah so true. We can’t always get our non-fiction fix in a novel, particularly dime novels.
    Methinks the greener pastures and bluer skies are more suited to your disposition. I hope your stay in Kansas is relaxed, productive, and happy. Happy digging! But longhorns! Now that’s a toughie. 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      The green pastures and blue skies are a balm! The research, archeology field school, and family is like a pinch-me-dream. To talk to historians directly, have access to Hickok materials, getting to dig like Danni…ah, I guess my mind stalled over an easier prompt! 😀

  4. […] :- Thank you Charli Mills for running the challenge at Carrot Ranch Communications. The challenge is to write in exactly 99 words a story based on this week’s prompt […]

  5. kittysverses says:

    Hi Charli Mills, thank you for running the challenge.
    Please have a look at my take at
    Thank you all for stopping by and reading.

  6. Annecdotist says:

    That figure of 90% of women being pregnant took me aback yet it stands to reason that they would be making this journey during their most fertile years. And that in itself would draw my attention to your reimagining of the wild West – yes the women could drive the wagons just like the men, but they had additional demands in caring for young children and perhaps giving birth along the way. It reminds me of current migrants to Europe from Syria and its environs – we’re often shown news footage of tiny babies being rescued from overcrowded boats.
    But have to say you’ve posed quite a challenge this time. While I admire your own flash and how you’ve built in your healthy scepticism is about written history, it’s the first time I’ve ever had to think about longhorns! I might have to pretend I’ve misread the prompt!

    • “It reminds me of current migrants to Europe from Syria and its environs – we’re often shown news footage of tiny babies being rescued from overcrowded boats.”
      I’d never thought of the comparison before, but there may be gold here for policy guidance~~

    • Annecdotist says:

      I’m afraid I’ve cheated and summoned up a couple of long horns

      • Charli Mills says:

        The fact that you are on a loooong trail ride of blog tours, I’m impressed you rode in with this one! There’s no cheating at the ranch, just clever displays of creativity. 😉

      • Annecdotist says:

        I knew I’d be forgiven, but it’s sometimes fun to see how the prompts can lead me outside my usual preoccupations so I do like to at least try to go with the original definition.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha! I got carried away with arriving in Kansas and grasping at a trail icon. However, you might find it interesting that a psychiatrist, Daniel Levinson, and a historian, Howard Lamar, suggested that “…the overland passage played a vital role in the life cycle of men, corresponding to ‘breaking away,’ improving, or bettering oneself, the stages that mark a man’s life.” In contrast, the journey for women is “anti-mythic.” I think a difference for Syrian migrants might be the fear and desperation shared by the parents, whereas, westerward ho! was an adventure in virility for the men and a drain on the women. I think it’s remarkable that two of my characters (based on historic women) had no children after the infant deaths of their firstborns. Yet, also unthinkable what the parents of today’s war-displacement must be suffering.

      • Annecdotist says:

        Oh, I can see that as a rite of passage, Charli, and a lot safer than all-out war. But if I understood you rightly, it’s strange they couldn’t envisage a similar drive for adventure and independence among the women. I’m looking forward to learning about the West from your novel – apart from those old black and white cowboy films, there aren’t really any myths in my head for you to unravel.

      • Charli Mills says:

        There’s an interesting book called “Soiled Doves” about the prostitutes out west and that author (also a woman) contends many of the laundresses and prostitutes indeed traveled west for adventure. Perhaps that wasn’t the adventure they intended, but I am exploring what freedom might mean to women and how they find it or compromise. If women have a Hollywood myth in the old western movies, I think it would be that of the silent role!

  7. Joe Owens says:

    For those of us more than a century removed it is difficult to even imagine the kind of life the settlers endured. I am sure of that 905 number there was a second number alarmingly high of complicated and unhappy birth experiences. The emotional toll of the journey and the pregnancy had to be horrific.

    • Joe Owens says:

      I meant 90% number, lazy finger on the shift 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      It’s unthinkable, the hardships of the overland experience, and yet they endured and many managed to thrive. I think it’s interesting that the woman my character of Mary is based on, chose to give birth among family back home before following her husband west. But when he died, she and her children stayed. The emotional state had to have been complex, too.

  8. I started on the lines of longhorn beetles then changed my mind to a bit of tongue in cheek humour from the actual photograph prompt.
    Hope it makes you smile Charli.

  9. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (05/25/2017):  In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the word longhorn. You can go with any of its meanings or make it a name of a person or organization. Cheese or cattle, technology or place, what can you create from the western icon? Go traditional or new; go where the prompt leads. […]

  10. Went with the concept, rather than the word, betting on the pun. Hope that was OK!

  11. […] Carrot Ranch, May 25, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the word longhorn. […]

  12. Gee whiz! These prompts! Longhorn, really? In the end I only looked west a little for this one.

    Highlander, by D. Avery

    These green mountains had never held her the way they held him. She’d always chafed at the constrictions of hill farming, pined for open range. With dual citizenship she could be anywhere; Texas, Alberta, anywhere her wild western dreams led her. He wouldn’t look.
    He was pioneering right here, innovating with heirloom breeds and traditional farming methods. He raised Highlanders for meat, but kept one as a milk cow, another tradition for this loyal breed. These Scottish Longhorns were hardy and independent, but also good-natured and reliable, good mothers.
    He’d be right here with his fold should she return.

    • Charli Mills says:

      And it didn’t slow you down one bit! In this story it is the woman with the wide skies wanderlust and like that twist. He’s the domestic of sorts.

  13. […] Flash Fiction Challenge over at Carrot Ranch […]

  14. 90% pregnant? 😮 Wow. That’s…wow. Yes, a community of women would be vital. It’s awesome that you’re able to find such rich history where you travel to research. Hope all goes well in Kansas.

    Here’s my longhorn flash:

    • Rather, “It’s awesome that you’re able to find such rich history to research where you travel.” You know what I mean. 😉

    • Charli Mills says:

      In various stages — before, during and after. Giving birth on the trail must have been terrifying! Rich history here, unbelievable, actually! I have met with historians, archivists and archeologists already. More to come!

  15. Where’s the Beef? D. Avery

    “Fifty musta’ made her cantankerous.”
    Shorty just smiled. Even as they whined and complained they were checking cinches, adjusting stirrups. Getting ready.
    “We’re not all country western singin’ cowgirls!”
    “A short piece on longhorns! I’d rather a tall-tale than a longhorn.”
    “Are there even any left?”
    Shorty finally spoke. “There’re longhorns out there for you to wrangle and round up. Bring one back to the ranch on the hoof; raw, if you will.”
    More grumbling but they were already mounted and ranging out. Shorty never used a stick, and knew that the carrot was simply a job raw done.

  16. Pete says:

    Gruene Hall was roasting. Renee and I sat drenched from drink and dance. Her hair shined. My favorite curl had slung itself around her cheek as we heaved, giggling when the headliner, Merlin Mowers, slid next to Renee. A round of Lonestar longnecks followed.

    Renee squealed. We snapped selfies. All was wonderful until Mowers veered into Renee, his long face like a Cadillac Deville, his mustache a set of longhorns affixed to his grin.

    Renee’s eyes widened. Her grip tightened around the longneck.
    I could’ve told Merl to duck.

    Instead I bailed out my lovely wife the next morning.

  17. denmaniacs4 says:

    Well, Charli, I can’t say I make much sense with this contribution but I hope it provides some entertainment.

    Curds and Wheys and Means

    Sally Longhorn Wakely made her pitch to me one night on the corner of Blather and Scrounge.

    I wasn’t ready for it but knew it was coming.

    Sally was a little like Runyon’s Apple Annie but with cheddar dreams.

    You just knew she would bake a swell pie.

    “I just wanna make cheese, Gerry. Cheese. Is that so much to ask?”

    Well she had me there. I’d funded a brick load of Yankee lads and lasses who knew no other dream then one pleasured with carroty joy.

    Trump had delivered their moment of revival.

    We were feeling the auburn.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Definitely entertaining from the names to the cheese to feeling a different bern! 😀 Glad you had fun with the prompt, Bill!

  18. floridaborne says:

    Hi, Charli,

    This gentleman entered but did the same thing I’ve done a couple of times — credited the wrong blog. I wanted his post to be seen in the right places 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you for rounding up the stray. 😉 It’s easy to get lost sometimes on the prompt trail, but glad your response inspired him!

  19. […] has a cunning prompt this […]

  20. Hey Charli. Cant wait to read about Kansas! The adventures continue =]

    As u know im just a northerner amongst squirrels lol. So never seen a longhorn. Tho i did visit Texas once. Definitely seemed bigger than anywhere else.

    Here is my flash this week.

    Steakhouse by Elliott Lyngreen

    She had put contacts in.

    He put on deoderant and her favorite button-down.

    She offered, “you can move here,” smiling without glasses, taking him to glimpses in here many years ago, before the lumps appeared.

    He accepted, “dont mind if i do,” nearly wincing into the booth against her.

    He knew exactly what she wanted. Steak and potatoes.

    The restaraunt always resembled a giant tree hollowed, carved into places to eat.

    He had far away stares of her, them; laughing contagiously; two kids up too late in a treehouse.

    She squinted, “you will never go south again. ok?”

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Elliott! There’s much going on in Kansas, but I miss the Gallup people and the wide, timeless spaces of the west. Texas is, well, Texas-big! I’ll be heading north next and will let you know in case you want a Yupper journey. I know where to get a killer pasty, but it’s not as stellar as your treehouse steakhouse. A touching story that unfolds.

      • Im assuming a pasty is like ice cream? .. we got Scoops down the road; gotta get the crunch coat.

      • Charli Mills says:

        A pasty is the food gem of the UP, a hold over from hardrock mining days and Cornish immigrants. Savory beef and veggies in a handheld piecrust. It’s simple but oh-so-divine! And definitely meat and potatoes! Scoops sounds delicious for later!

      • Oh! Sounds like a pot pie. And very yummy. Yes i would definitely go for one.

    • julespaige says:

      Yep…sometimes it is best to look past the present, through memories and enjoy the simple things. Like good steak and potatoes.

      Thanks for stopping by – I am so far behind I might be starting from the beginning soon 😉

  21. […] week, Charli Mills hosts the Congress of Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt was “longhorn.” Come read fun flashes from other […]

  22. Deborah Lee says:

    So glad you made it to Kansas! Looking forward to your continuing saga, as good as one of those dime novels sometimes. 😉

    • Charli Mills says:

      It’s the Kansas chapter, now! Although I think it will be somewhat domesticated, less wild, but still lots to uncover in archives and dirt. I liked Jane’s walk this week. She needs a good frosty mug at a familiar place.

    • There was a longhorn saloon around here nany many years ago as well

  23. […] Mills at the Carrot Ranch. This week she had me (almost) completely stumped with her challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a (story) that includes the word longhorn. Charli’s in Kansas at the moment, and her reference is to longhorn cattle, a breed not familiar […]

  24. […] this cool writing blog and thought I’d throw my hat in. The internet tells me longhorns can be pretty […]

  25. […] May 25, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a that includes the word longhorn. You can go with any of its meanings or make it a name of a person or organization. Cheese or cattle, technology or place, what can you create from the western icon? Go traditional or new; go where the prompt leads. […]

  26. […] May 25, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a that includes the word longhorn. You can go with any of its meanings or make it a name of a person or organization. Cheese or cattle, technology or place, what can you create from the western icon? Go traditional or new; go where the prompt leads. […]

  27. julespaige says:


    Grandy #2 expected shortly, but I had some time to pen and post
    (Link to post should be the title) – another Janice vs Richard. And I used Longhorn as a name:

    Defining Moment

    Defining Moment

    Detective James Longhorn had knew there would be no syncretism
    for Janice and Richard. The reformation of a psychopath was like
    trying to collapse the tough cast iron barrel of an old cannon.

    Richard seemed to have a stiff vertebra, and the uncanny tendency
    to warren his way into the nerves of a woman whom he had once
    controlled. Longhorn would do all he could to catch Richard whether
    the troll was actually lucid or oscitant.

    When that horrid call came over the invisible strands of transmission;
    to the unboxed cell phone – everyone in the police precinct room

    Three prompt mash in 99 words; CR, MLMM photo, MLMM wordle

    • julespaige says:

      Minor adustment in the first sentence… take out ‘had’ before “knew” and add ‘that’ after it.

      • Charli Mills says:

        This story is really bubbling to the surface, isn’t? I’ve been fascinated to watch the serials unfold, and when I began using flash fiction as a way to revise scenes, I found it useful. I think in terms of scenes, and sometimes don’t know where it’s heading or where it’s been! The flash gives me the freedom to explore without committing. I hope it helps you discover what this bigger story hold for you.

        And guess what, Jules? Your Ella Clah novel arrived in Kansas today. My sister-in-law thought it was great that writers share reads. Thank you for sharing!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Great detective name! That would be wild if this is your main character entering the page and Richard and Janice are one of his mysteries! Have fun with Grand #2!

    • You could just say “Longhorn knew there would be no…” but its your flash. =]

      • julespaige says:

        Thanks for the input – but would it still fit the 99 word no more no less count? 🙂

      • Well i was thinking about that. I guess it could free up a space for another word.

      • julespaige says:

        I had a tough time mixing the three prompts stuffed with twelve words from the list. I think I’ll leave it alone for now. All the hard definitions are at my post site. Thanks.

      • I think it works. And is a wonderful flash. Dont mind me! Lol

      • julespaige says:

        The Ranch is a friendly place… 😉

        I just hope the piece stands alone since it really is part of a series. Which some folks like and some don’t. But I go as Charli would say…where the prompt(s) lead…

      • I definiely think it stands alone. Just any chapter stands alone. You trust ur audience to fill in the blanks. i enjoy the language and unique words. I am always learning new ones. And i think i learned about 5 in yours. That phone call is killing me. So, that is to say, you captured the essence of how it should freeze everyone. Whether we find out why or not; the creativite part of it has been achieved.

      • julespaige says:

        For you and anyone else who missed this part…

        This is an excerpt from (the ‘chapter’) “Ten Years Too Soon”. The cell phone was delivered to Janice’s home while she was at the neighbors waiting for the police.

        “At the station, in the conference room with blue carpeting; the box was carefully opened. There was only a cell phone in a red case in layers of bubble wrap. After going over the device with special wand it was determined that the phone was safe enough to handle, after it was dusted for prints. The woman officer suggested Janice turn it on – Janice turned it on and saw it had one message. Janice put the phone on speaker to play the recording. “Found …”, turning pale she dropped the phone, “you!” – boomed in Richard’ voice….also; “Took care of the neighborhood’s Peeping Tom. For you, dear…”

        I know just creates more questions 🙂
        Might lead one to read all links in the series…or not.

      • Well this getting good

      • julespaige says:

        🙂 The one this week is #7 of the set.

      • Do u have somewhere that the whole story is located?

      • julespaige says:

        The links to the story are here:
        (They are numbered in reverse order – the newest one is on the top of the list… that’s the best I can do.)

        I went and put the link ‘Janice vs Richard’ on each piece but you can also reach the link on the top of the flash fiction site on the page ‘Janice vs Richard’ – each piece has the links to the prompt sites (including the wordle lists if used are on each piece they are used in). I hope that isn’t too much of an inconvenience.

      • Cool! Ill check it out. Asfor now its about sleep time. Thanks!

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