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Tagged with " Kansas"
11 Jul
2017

The Lone Ranger was Black*

Was the Lone Ranger modeled after Bass Reeves, the first black U.S. deputy marshal who worked thirty-two years in the Arkansas and Oklahoma territories in the late 1800’s?  He may have been.

Lone Ranger, Tonto

“The Lone Ranger” classic TV and radio shows embedded this image of the character (with Tonto) into American lore.

History Is Biased

“The Lone Ranger was Black: Reintegrating Minority Viewpoints into Historical Fiction.” This intriguing title of one of the sessions offered at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Portland drew me in.  The session addressed the issue of bias in our history and the impact of that bias on authors of historical fiction.  Today we no longer view history as “the truth” but rather a story told through the lens of the teller.  Did you love the Lone Ranger when you were growing up?  I did.  We assumed he was a courageous (and white) lawman.  That’s how the story was told.

Readers of historical fiction express their fondness for this genre because they like a particular historical period and enjoy learning from fiction set in an historical context.  Readers also say they want accurate history in the stories they read.  Historical fiction writers have a responsibility to the historical record.  But what record?

American history, Black history, buffalo soldiers

Buffalo soldiers of the 25th Infantry or the 9th Cavalry, while stationed at Yosemite National Park. ca. 1899 (Shutterstock).

Finding Alternative Viewpoints

A key question for authors of historical fiction is how to tell stories and develop characters with lives extremely different from their own given the bias of historical sources.  How do we find alternative viewpoints?  How can we do justice to the painful experiences of non-dominant characters in our stories?

Most of us have heard the story of Custer’s Last Stand or the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  From the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne perspective, they believed they were betrayed because their treaty rights were ignored after gold was discovered on native lands.  White Americans saw the Indians as wild and bloodthirsty and stubbornly refusing to move to the reservation.  For many of us, we learned only the white American history version growing up.

Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger

When we watched and admired the Lone Ranger as children we accepted how he was portrayed.  Yet, he probably was based on the real-life story of Bass Reeves.  Reeves, a former slave, whose exploits were famous, was imposing at 6’2”.  The first black lawman west of the Mississippi, he cut a striking figure on his large gray (almost white) horse, while wearing his trademark black hat and twin .45 Colt Peacemakers cross-draw style. He was never touched by a bullet although he brought in 3000 criminals alive and 14 dead, killed in self-defense.  Reeves was called the “Indomitable Marshall.”  He left silver dollars as his calling card.  Other similarities to the Lone Ranger included his friendship and knowledge of Native American tribes and languages and his use of disguises to capture those he pursued.  The racism in our culture probably prevented the Lone Ranger hero from being portrayed as a black lawman.

Lone Ranger, Bass Reeves

“Who WAS that Masked Man?” Was it Bass Reeves?

The historical narrative is actually composed of multiple narratives.  We have often learned only one.  Most of the stories about homesteaders on the prairie who risked their lives and battled extreme heat and white-out blizzard conditions portray them as white.  In doing the research for my historical novel, “Sarah’s Secret,” I discovered a little-known town in Kansas called Nicodemus which drew freed slaves to homestead in the surrounding area after the Civil War.

Offering an Opposing Voice

As writers of historical fiction, we have an obligation to our readers to offer an accurate portrayal of both our characters and the historical context.  Our discussion in this conference session emphasized the importance of deep knowledge and experience of the culture in which our story is set as well as a recognition of the historical biases of the sources we are using.  This is especially important if the writer is writing in a cultural context other than her own.

Writing historical fiction provides us an opportunity to balance the bias of history by including an opposing voice of the non-dominant group in the story.  Since my protagonist, Sarah was traveling North by wagon through Kansas to return to Nebraska and her family, I thought it would add interest to the story to describe Sarah and her children unexpectedly encountering a black family in the middle of Kansas living near Nicodemus.

Sarah follows a narrow path with her seriously ill daughter to find help.  She discovers a welcoming family descended from former slaves who willingly share their modest home for several days while Sarah nurses her daughter back to health.  Her sons have fun with the son of the family. This was also an opportunity to include an opposing voice to traditional bias when Sarah tells her concerned son stories about her own and her father’s rejection of slavery, support for the Union in the Civil War and her family’s generosity toward “Negro” families when she was a child.

Have you been surprised when you learned a different narrative from the “official record?” Tell us about it.

*Thanks to J. James Cotter for leading the session “The Lone Ranger was Black: Reintegrating Minority Viewpoints into Historical Fiction” at the Historical Novel Society Conference, June 2017

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8 Aug
2016

Thank You! Now, the Sub-Title

Help Me with My Book Sub-Title!

 

Thank you to those of you who made suggestions and contributed ideas for the title of my new book. You are great friends and supporters! It was so helpful for me to see what you liked and endorsed. I gave it much thought and as a result I have narrowed it to the following title:

SARAH’S SECRET OF BETRAYAL AND FORGIVENESS

BUT I would love your suggestions and thoughts about a sub-title. I am interested in getting either words or images of the West or Western themes. What are your suggestions???

Thanks so much for your help.

Here is a short summary of the book or you can read the longer synopsis of the book I included in my last post requesting your help in choosing the title.

SUMMARY

The story is told from the perspective of two protagonists. In the 1880’s, Sam, irresponsible, lonely and untrustworthy has abandoned those he loves until he seeks redemption and marries Sarah. In 1911, Sara, struggling to find the inner strength to overcome loneliness, poverty and illness to support her children after Sam’s death. After a perilous journey by wagon from New Mexico to Nebraska, she learns of Sam’s betrayal. Will Sarah find forgiveness in her heart and the resolve to accept her new life alone?

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21 Jul
2016

Help Me Choose the Title

I am excited to be finalizing my manuscript for publication. But I can’t decide on the final title. Would you be willing to help? I have listed four of the finalists below. I would be so grateful for your help.

Book Titles, Bev Scott

Which title do you like best?

Let me know which title is most likely to attract your attention if you were looking for a book to read. You might have other ideas or combinations, which is fine, too.  Let me know your choices and your thoughts in the Comments section of the blog.  Thank you!

Here is the synopsis to give you context for the title.

Synopsis

The story is told from the perspective of the two key protagonists, Will and Sarah.

In 1878, Will is on the run after killing a man in a bar room gunfight. He escapes the Texas Rangers by joining a cattle drive headed to Dodge City, as the cook. He struggles with the dilemma of saving his life or attempting to return to his pregnant wife and five children. Just when he thinks he might be able to return home, he is confronted by a bounty hunter who captures him and plans to return him to Forth Worth, Texas to be hanged. Will is freed by his trail boss and a buddy from the cattle drive. He finds himself “riding the owl hoot trail” in Kansas as a wanted man.

Will finds refuge on an isolated homestead with Peggy, a widow and her daughter, Margaret Ann. He helps her with the livestock, building a corral and a “real” house while he hides out from the law. He struggles with his responsibility to return to his wife and family and his increasing attraction to Peggy. When Will learns that his wife and children may have perished in a tornado, he gives in to his desire for Peggy, only to find that he is too afraid to take on the responsibility Peggy asks. He abruptly abandons Peggy and finds himself on the dodge from the law again when he meets an itinerant preacher named John who saves his life. John recognizes Will’s guilt and challenges him to grow up and be a man. When Will struggles with his culpability in abandoning the women in his life, he turns to John who guides him to find redemption. Will decides to homestead in Wyoming ready to settle down with a good woman.

In 1911, Sarah, a widow with five children struggles to find the inner strength to overcome betrayal, loneliness, fears, and self-doubt. Her husband, Sam, thirty years her senior, died with a curious and defiant declaration, “I won’t answer!” Despite poverty and a crippling illness, she is determined to keep her family together, leave New Mexico, and return to Nebraska to be near her parents and siblings.

Horses, great PlainsDuring the perilous journey home, Sarah must face her fears as a woman traveling without the protective company of a man, confront her son’s sometimes reckless attempts to be the man of the house, and cope with real dangers which threaten their lives. Still grieving from the loss of her husband, she ventures into unknown territory desperate to find help for her sick infant daughter and then learns of the death of her beloved father.

When Sarah returns to Nebraska, she receives staggering news which complicates her efforts to support her children. She is shocked, angry and emotionally devastated. Since she is attempting to establish herself in the community as a teacher, she believes she must keep her husband’s betrayal a secret even from her own family.

Title Choices for You!

Again, here are the titles I’m considering for the book. Let me know what you think in the Comments below. Which of the following seems to fit the story line best? Do you have any other thoughts, ideas or critiques of the title choices that could help me? Or do you have an completely different title you might want to suggest?

I’m all ears!

A. Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: A Western Tale

B. A Family Secret: Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness

C. “I Won’t Answer!” A Secret from the American West

D. Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: She Kept the Secret

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23 Feb
2016

A Town Built on Opportunity and The Pioneering Spirit of Former Slaves

In recognition of Black History Month, I wanted to share this background from my research for my novel inspired by the lives of my grandparents. 

 “No, my parents homesteaded here after the Emancipation.  They came up here from Mississippi. It was a long and hard journey but they made it and settled on this land.” Alida responded proudly…

…your husband?”

  “Oh, George is in town, in Nicodemus .  He runs the General Store.  His father helped establish the town.  George’ll be home for supper. And if your baby don’t get better, George’ll get the doctor in town.”  (Excerpt from: “Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness:  A Family Story”  a novel in process)

I discovered the town of Nicodemus doing my research about Kansas.  Nicodemus is the only remaining western town established by African Americans during Reconstruction after the Civil War.  To many freed slaves, Kansas was a symbol of opportunity and freedom associated with the “underground railroad” and the abolitionist John Brown.  Nicodemus survives as a symbol of opportunity and the pioneering spirit of former slaves.

A Town Built on Opportunity - 1

In 1877, six former slaves from Kentucky followed the leadership of one of their own, Reverend H. W. Smith and a white man, W. R. Hill, an experienced land speculator.  They believed the stories Hill recounted of a “Promised Land” with abundant game and rich soil   available through the Homestead Act.  They came with the goal of establishing the first all-black settlement on the Great Plains

Several stories are told about why they named the town Nicodemus.  One claims that the town was named after the biblical figure “Nicodemus”.  Another tells about an African prince taken into slavery and later bought his freedom.  And, yet a third story suggests it was named after an escaped slave.

A Town Built on Opportunity - 2

This is the Williams Family. Most people living in Nicodemus are descendants or related to this original settler’s family. The caption is left to right. Charles, Henry (first baby born in Nicodemus), Clara, bottom row Charles Sr., Emma, Neal. (Click picture to read more)

 

They recruited through posters distributed all over the South and by word of mouth.  In the late summer of 1877, 308 railroad tickets were reportedly sold to desperate families wanting land and freedom.  Early settlers were very poor and often arrived without tools, horses or provisions.  As I wrote in my last post, the shortage of timber forced these settlers to build their homes out of sod or in dugouts like many other pioneers. One story is recounted by a woman who arrived very sick.  Looking around after hearing the cry, “There is Nicodemus,” she could only see smoke coming out of the ground.    Although the location of the town was chosen along the bank of the Solomon River, and considered an area suitable for farming, many found life there to be too challenging.  This barren land was hardly the paradise these former slaves had been promised.  Many families returned to the green hills in Kentucky.  Additional groups of settlers arrived with more resources and the population grew.  Those that settled and stayed showed resourcefulness and hard work.

Nicodemus remained a small thriving African American community through World War I.  In 1910 the population is recorded at 600.  As with many farming communities, the Depression and the Dustbowl were devastating. The population reached a low point of only 16 people.  Several other black settlements sprung up in Kansas after the Civil War, but Nicodemus was the only one to survive.  Revitalized in the 1970’s, Nicodemus was recognized as a National Historic Site in 1996.

The story I am currently writing, is inspired by the lives of my grandparents, Sarah, a widow with five children, traveling by wagon through Kansas in 1911.  She is desperate to return to the homestead of her parents in Nebraska to have the comfort of family nearby.   Before they can reach Nebraska, her baby daughter becomes seriously ill.  She needs help.  She rides one of the wagon horses down a rutted path, leaving her other children with the wagon.  She worries if she is safe, if she can find aid and support or if she will be turned away.  She knocks on the door of a small house with smoke curling from the chimney.

The door opened a crack and a Negro face with black searching eyes peered out.  “Yes, ma’am?”

“My baby daughter’s very sick.  We’re traveling by wagon to Nebraska.  I need some help.”

The door opened wider to reveal a tidy room with handmade wood furniture.   A small woman, with dark brown skin and a kerchief tied around her head motioned me inside.”

In the story, this family, descended from former slaves who settled in Nicodemus, welcomes Sarah and her children to stay until the baby is well.

Do you know other stories of settlements by African Americans (or other ethnic groups) who homesteaded in other states?

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10 Sep
2014
Posted in: Book Reviews
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Book Review: “Finding Billy Battles” by Ron Yates

Finding Billy BattlesReviewed by Bev Scott

Billy Battles tells such an engaging story that it is easy to forget it is fiction written by someone else.  The author includes real people such as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Doc Holliday and events like the gun battle at the OK Corral, which contribute to the “reality” of the story.

There are actually three story tellers.   The author Ron Yates introduces us to Ted Sayles, the great grandson of William Fitzroy Raghlan Battles.  Sayles’ grandmother takes Ted to meet his great grandfather at the old soldier’s home in Kansas when he is 12.  Ted Sayles describes his reluctant meeting of the ninety-eight year old veteran of the Spanish American War and how he came to receive a trunk of journals written in “vivid prose” describing his great grandfather’s life as an itinerant journalist.  Sayles, himself a journalist, did not open the trunk and read the journals for thirty eight years after his great grandfather died.  After reviewing the contents of the trunk, Sayles sees as his task blending the journals, letters, photos and recordings with an unfinished autobiography into a compelling narrative of Billy Battles told in his own voice, the third story teller.

This book is the first of a trilogy in which Billy Battles begins by telling us in first person of his young adult life and how it took an unexpected turn, leading him through a series of unforeseen life-threatening events.  Despite these challenges, Billy becomes an established journalist in Denver where he marries and starts a family.  Unfortunately, calamity strikes and the anguish and heartache lead Billy to abandon his responsibilities.

Author Yates acknowledges that he uses the colloquial language he remembers from his own Kansas childhood in an effort to remain true to the vernacular of the time.  This is an admirable effort but it is overwhelming for today’s reader who did not grow up in Kansas.  Words and phrases which add color to the story also detract by being overwhelming to the reader in trying to figure out what is meant by “shin out”, “hog leg”, “sticky rope”, “has the sand to jerk his dewey at the law”, “inside of a hoosegow” and many others.   In addition, some of the big “fifty cent” words Yates uses such as francoteradores or insalubrious seem out of place in this story.

Interspersed with the lively vernacular are brilliant descriptions that carry the reader to the scene or provide vivid images of characters in the story such as this description of Doc Holliday:  “Doc was a strange one.  He had eyes that would chill a side of beef.  They were piercing slate gray and set deep in an ashen face.  The skin was pulled so tight over his high cheekbones that you though a bone might poke through anytime.”

The author very cleverly sets up the reader to go deeper and deeper into the story with hints about what will happen in the future such as, “Had my life not taken a regrettable turn a few weeks later, we might have developed a more romantic liaison” Or, “that kind of legal problem was nothing compared to an incident that was a few weeks away and that would have a momentous impact on both our lives.”  Or simply, “But things were about to change.”

I was hooked as Yates the author and Billy Battles the story teller graphically depict life in the last half of the 19th Century as the West is tamed and Battles wrestles with the unexpected and startling events that change his life.  I didn’t want this book to end.  I am still hooked and ready to read the next book in the trilogy.  I want to know the next surprising turn in Billy Battles life.

Author website: www.ronaldyates.com

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18 Aug
2014

Journey to Fiction – Part 3

This is the third in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.

On the Trail of John Howard Scott…

Harvey D Scott

Grandfather as a young man before he abandoned Harriet.

I knew from the depositions I found in the National Archives, that John’s first wife Harriet reported he had abandoned her in 1879 leaving her “destitute” with five children and a sixth on the way.  She believed he was dead.  But I knew he lived until 1911 under the name of Harvey Depew Scott.  Looking for clues, I combed the depositions he gave to government agents when he was trying to prove his identity as a Civil War Veteran.

There he acknowledged that he was in Kansas and in 1880 went to work as a cook for an “overland”  expedition from Fort Dodge to Laramie, Wyoming.  Another time he reported that he worked cattle.  It was the time of cattle drives from Texas up to Dodge City.  Thousands of longhorn cattle were driven by drovers up the Chisholm Trail and the Western Cattle trail.  It is estimated that over five to six million cattle driven up the Western were packed into wooden railcars and shipped to Kansas City, Omaha, St. Louis and Chicago.  1880 was one of the peak years for cattle drives. Some cattle were to be delivered farther north and were driven across western Kansas to Ogallala, Nebraska, Dakota Territory, Wyoming, Montana and as far north as Canada.

Far west town

 

 

Going from Texas to Dodge City at ten to fourteen miles a day easily took two to three months.  Life on the cattle drive was dusty, lonely and frequently dangerous.  Any strange noise or unexpected event especially at night could precipitate a stampede of the thousand to fifteen hundred skittish animals.  Heavy rains meant flooded rivers and the trail drivers had to get reluctant cattle into rushing  water, make sure none of them were carried downstream with a fast-moving current or got stuck in the quick sand at the river’s edge.

Cattle towns provided distractions and entertainment for the drovers.  Dodge City was infamous as a wild and lawless town.  A typical frontier town, it acquired a reputation of glamour, excitement and opportunity.  Buffalo hunters, cowboys, gamblers, gun slingers and railroad men were drawn to Dodge City for thrill of adventure and easy come, easy go money.

Although killings didn’t happen every day, they were not a rare occurrence either.  In the saloons where drinking, gambling and female entertainment occurred, and arguments among the rough characters who frequented these establishments were usually background in the style of the American West. Handcuffs in jeanssettled by  gun fights.  The men shot dead were often buried in unmarked graves on famous Boot Hill.  Wyatt Earp, his brother, Dave Mathers and other famous gun slingers and killers hung out in Dodge City.

Did John Howard join a cattle drive from Texas to Dodge City and then go on to Wyoming?  Did the lure of Dodge City entice him north from Texas?

I believe there is a strong possibility he was in Dodge City or passing through during its rough and tumble days in the 1880’s.

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