Across the Great Divide

Today, I welcome Michael L. Ross, author of The Search, book II of his series Across the Great Divide. His post reflects on the challenges of seeking oral sources for history, eliminating historical bias, and bridging a cultural divide.

Historical fiction is an unusual type of writing, because many events, and even characters are already determined. There is a basic timeline for the story that can’t change. Most writers of history do mountains of research to make their work as authentic as possible, true to the culture, times, known facts, and people. 

Research means delving into the internet, written archives, libraries, diaries and newspapers, and possibly visiting the places of the events. But what if there isn’t much written down? What if there isn’t much left to see? Authors concerned with ancient history often encounter this problem, but it can be equally true when writing about more modern but not literate societies. 

In writing my most recent novel, The Search, I follow my main character Will Crump from the ashes of the Civil War to the high country of Wyoming and Montana, in the period 1865-1868. Suffering from what was then known as “soldier’s heart”, Will follows the trail of immigrants west, searching for peace – and runs into the middle of Red Cloud’s War. Along the way, he acquires a companion, Huwei or Dove, a young Shoshone woman, a survivor of the Bear Creek Massacre. 

Though the novel is half the length of The Clouds of War, the first in the Across the Great Divide series, it took nearly twice as long to write. Tracking down information about the Shoshone, Sioux, Arapaho, and Crow tribes is daunting, and means consulting oral sources. The written documents are often slanted to the white or Army point of view. When you are forced to deal with oral history for research, grabbing scraps from various people, it can be quite difficult to construct an accurate world view.

For example, one primary written source is Francis Carrington’s book, My Army Life. While informative, Mrs. Carrington had a vested interest in protecting her husband, Colonel Henry Carrington, and his reputation following the Fetterman fight. Since there were no survivors, her arguments were persuasive, but suspect.

I constantly ran into roadblocks, due to Native Americans’ understandable reluctance to discuss their history and culture with a white person. I read Red Cloud’s Autobiography, The White Indian Boy (first person account of a boy who lived with Chief Washakie of the Eastern Shoshone), biographies of Jim Bridger, material from Idaho State University that told about Shoshone culture, and countless pioneer diaries.  I even got a little help from Drusilla, a Shoshone who consulted on Hollywood movies – but she retired, and quit answering questions. There were still huge gaps in the knowledge of the Shoshone way of life and customs. Finally, I found Darren Parry, modern day Chairman and “Chief” of the Northwestern Shoshone Band, on Twitter

Darren was mounting a run for Congress in Utah’s first district, and was willing to meet with me. His ancestors were the victims of the Bear River Massacre, the largest US Army massacre of Native Americans in history – and which is barely mentioned in most history books. Darren had written a non-fiction book on the Bear River Massacre, and when we met, he gave me a personal tour of the massacre site – the real one, not the one marked by the National Park Service. The tribe is raising money and applying legal pressure to acquire the site. The current owner cannot farm it without encountering human remains. 

Darren said that as a boy, his grandmother made him memorize all the stories of their tribe. He had to repeat them word perfect before he was allowed to play. The stories, language, and customs were passed down through six generations, each learning them perfectly. For me, he patiently answered question after question on history, culture, dealings with other tribes, dealings with the soldiers – especially Patrick Conner and the California volunteers. I checked what he told me with Drusilla, and the few written historical sources like Sergeant Beach’s diary that provided a map of the Bear River massacre.  

Not all research can come from books – sometimes people are the books. Darren and I forged a friendship, one that reaches Across the Great Divide.

Follow Will’s journey into another culture with The Clouds of War and The Search.

This is fascinating, Mike. As board members for the HNS North America 2021 conference, Mike and I have gotten to know one another this past year. Mike’s writing routine includes getting up once or twice a week around 3am to get some work done! Congratulations on your series, Mike, and best wishes for The Search.

The Search by Michael L. Ross ~~ The guns of the Civil War have ceased firing, and the shots are but an echo… yet the war rages on deep inside Will Crump’s soul. His soldier’s heart is searching for peace, and in that quest Will joins the westward movement, setting his path on a collision course with adventure, loss and love. 

The Westward Expansion floods the sacred, untouched lands with immigrants bringing conflict to the Shoshone, Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. Amidst the chaos Will finds safety in the shadow of the US Army, but the army brings battle-hardened troops into Red Cloud’s War, pulling Will into a tornado of conflict. Broken treaties and promises, leave both sides searching for answers. Will’s search leads him to a battle for survival, and there he finds a love that could change him forever. 

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Have passport – will do research

Kathryn Brewster Haueisen combines a degree in journalism and a career as a pastor to write about “good people doing great things for our global village.” [Love that sentiment.] She’s a descendant of two of the Mayflower passengers and a grandmother to three young people with Native American heritage. When I learned that she’d written about the Mayflower journey and what happened when the English met the Pokanoket people, I just had to invite her onto the blog. Over to you, Kathryn.

~~~

Since Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures was my first attempt at writing historical fiction, I attended a few workshops to hone my skills. One presenter emphasized repeatedly how crucial it is to visit the places we write about. I was researching the background of the story before COVID-19 became a dreaded reality. I love to travel, especially to England, where the Mayflower journey began for the English culture. As I learned along the way, the Pokanoket people were the other culture.

In 2017 I visited many of the popular London tourist sites and then inserted a bit of tour guide trivia into a scene set in London. I also ventured north to the village of Scrooby, located about 50 miles south of York, along the old North Road that connected London and Edinburgh. This is where the Mayflower story had its roots. At least that is where the story started for William and Mary Brewster, two of the central figures in my retelling of the religious and political events that serve as backdrop for the famous voyage.

I am twelve generations removed from this couple. Before becoming the spiritual leader of the Pilgrims, Elder Brewster served as bailiff at Scrooby Manor. Not much of the grand old manor remains today, but in the 1500s, it was a thriving stop over for royal messengers and high-ranking officials traveling between London and Edinburgh. The Bishop of York, who owned the estate, played a role in the Mayflower story. 

There is little to see in Scrooby today, but the church where William and Mary married in 1591 is in good condition, still in use, and only a few yards across the lawn from the remnant of the manor. Walking around the church yard and village gave me a sense of what it might have been like for my ancestors to take their afternoon strolls.

I didn’t expect to ever get to Leiden, where the Brewster’s and several dozen other Separatists lived as refugees from 1608 until they sailed in 1620. They left England to escape almost certain imprisonment and perhaps execution as religious heretics. They joined other English refugees in Amsterdam for a year; then moved down the road to Leiden in 1608. However, in 2018 my husband wanted to sail on a genealogy research cruise from England to New York. I eagerly agreed, as long as we built in time to also see Cambridge and Leiden. 

William studied briefly at Peterhouse, part of Cambridge University. Though I couldn’t go inside Peterhouse where he lived and studied, I wandered around the grounds and took a tour of the Cambridge University system. What I learned on that tour helped immensely in writing about that part of William’s life.  

I fell in love with Leiden. Many details in the completed manuscript are the result of an afternoon I spent at the American Pilgrim Museum, run by renowned historian and Pilgrim expert, Dr. Jeremy Bangs. I walked the same places the Pilgrims did. I was astonished to discover a plaque over an archway of an alley named after William Brewster. The plaque states this was the site of the Brewster home and William’s printing business. He got in trouble with the authorities for publishing anti-Established Church of England documents and smuggling them back into England. Strolling around the University of Leiden, I envisioned William, and his dear friend Pastor John Robinson, walking there and perhaps discussing their plans to establish a new religious colony. 

My goal in writing this book was to include the perspective of the Natives who encountered the new English settlers wandering around the shore of Cape Cod after they arrived in November. To research that part of the story I visited Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts. The living museum recently changed its to Plimouth * Patuxet, to honor the Native name for the place we know today as Plymouth. After spending a day wandering through the museum and both the English and Wampanoag villages, I had an eye-opening interview with the head of the Native village. 

Before I signed off on the final manuscript, I told Green Writers Press Publisher Dede Cummings we needed another Native to review it. I’d already spoken with several Natives, and paid a Native sensitivity editor to review portions of the book; but no one from the Native community had actually seen the entire manuscript. 

A friend in Rhode Island put me in touch with three generations of descendants from the great Pokanoket leader – Massasoit Ousa Mequin. They corrected some of my misinformation and filled in gaps in my research. They then wrote the forward to the book. Of all the places I visited, and all the backstory I learned along the way, meeting this family remains the highlight of the entire endeavor. We are convinced our ancestors knew one another and worked together to ensure the safety and wellbeing of both cultures

Today, we, their descendants, share this same philosophy. In the forward they wrote, “We truly believe that this book has been written in good faith and in holding to the renewing a dream that our ancestors aspired to, that both our people can prosper in this land in peace and fellowship.” Aquene (Peace), Sagamore Po Wauipi Neimpaug, Sachem Po Pummukoank Anogqs, and Tribal Historian Po Menuhkesu Menenok.

That workshop presenter was right. The best way to write authentically about history is to first visit places where it happened and speak with people who live there today.  

Many thanks, Kathryn. I’m sure many readers will be fascinated with your novel.

Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures by Kathryn Brewster Haueisen ~~ For thousands of years two distinct cultures evolved unaware of one another’s existence. Separated by what one culture called the Great Sea and known to the other as the Atlantic Ocean, the course of each culture’s future changed irreversibly four hundred years ago. In 1620 the Mayflower delivered 102 refugees and fortune seekers from England to Cape Cod, where these two cultures first encountered one another.  The English sought religious freedom and fresh financial opportunities. The Natives were recovering from the Great Dying of the past several years that left over two-thirds of their people in graves. How would they react to one another? How might their experience shape modern cross-cultural encounters?

The book is available now wherever books are sold, including www.bookshop.orgwww.amazon.com, and the distributor, http://www.ipgbook.com  .

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Victor Hugo’s Sur Une Barricade

Sometimes I come across a unique bit of history while researching for one of my novels. As I’ve mentioned before, Paris in Ruins, the novel I plan to self-publish relatively soon, is set in 1870 and 1871, a time when Paris went through the horror of a destructive, deadly siege by the Prussian Army and an uprising that pitted citizen against citizen.

Victor Hugo created a poem about that uprising. Sur Une Barricade. I found it in translation on The French Desk, a blog created by Michael Partridge.

Barricades were everywhere during the siege, demolished after France capitulated to Prussia and then re-emerged when the Commune took over. Made of wood, sandbags, overturned carts, bricks and other material, such barricades blocked the forward movement of troops, while providing protection to those men and women – yes, women – who defended them.

According to Michael Partridge, “Hugo was dismayed at the wrongdoings of both the Communards and the government, writing in a diary entry, “this Commune is as idiotic as the National Assembly is ferocious. From both sides, folly.”

We’ve all heard of Hugo’s famous works such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables, but he was also a renowned poet of the romantic movement.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.