B M Bower – Woman Wonder of Western Writing

B._M._BowerOne of the greatest female western novelists of her era was B. M. Bower. She was born Bertha Muzzy on November 15, 1871 in Otter Tail County, Minnesota. Her family moved to Homestead near Great Falls, Montana in 1889, and at the age of 18 she had a short career as a teacher Milligan Valley. Here she met and eventually eloped with her first husband, Clayton Bower, in 1890. Later Bertha said that she began writing during this unhappy marriage, in an effort to maintain her sanity.

She moved with Clayton to Big Sandy, Montana, in 1898, and began to learn about cowboys and the open range. The couple eventually went with their three children to an isolated cabin near here, where they rented a room to William Sinclair to supplement their income. William was 9 years younger than Bertha but they became close friends because of their mutual love for creating stories. The friendship thrived because of the knowledge they exchanged, and while she taught him the technicalities of writing he was able to help her add finer details to her stories.

Bertha published her first novel Chip of the Flying U in 1904, and it became overwhelmingly popular. The book was mainly a love story set on a fictional ranch, and was re-released in hardcover, in 1906, with vivid watercolour illustrations. To satisfy her readers, Bertha continued writing an entire series dedicated to stories about the Flying U Ranch.

In the meantime the abuse in her marriage escalated and Sinclair helped her to leave the family home and go to live with her brother.  Clayton and Bertha divorced in 1905 and she was left with custody of one of their children, while the other two remained with their father. Shortly after, on August 13, she got married to William Sinclair and they focused on their writing careers together. In 1907, Bertha gave birth to the couple’s only child and the family moved to Santa Cruz, California, where they remained until their marriage fell apart in 1911.

In 1920 the writer got married for the third and final time, to a cowboy that she had met while living in Big Sandy, Robert Elsworth Cowan. During the Great Depression they moved to Depoe Bay, Oregon where Cowan died in 1939.

During her career B M Bower wrote 57 western novels accurately portraying the lives of cowboys. She was able to connect with them from both her personal observations and the experiences of her loved ones. Her signature writing style was unique to the genre, and she included technological possibilities and humour in her stories. Most westerns novels are packed with violent events but Bower managed to eliminate the majority of these from her stories, making them uplifting and inspiring instead of dark and dreary.

Throughout her career most of her readers and reviewers believed that B.M. Bower was male and even after her death in July 1940, many of them still reviewer her books with reference to the author as a man.  In addition to writing novels, Bertha collaborated with other authors to write screenplays under the name Bertha Muzzy Sinclair. Several of these have since been turned into films. The author died in Los Angeles, at the age of 68, with over two million copies of her novels being sold worldwide at the time.