Category: history

COUNTDOWN: One Day to Remember How It Rained

ast The flood at Naponee, where my mother was born four years later

ONE Family Story Woven In

Darkwater Creek, Nebraska is the setting for my novels, a fictional town along the Republican River in Nebraska, in Franklin County, my parents’ home.

The house on my grandparents’ farm was first located on the Republican River bottom, and it flooded in 1935. The man who owned the house then crawled into the attic to escape the floodwaters. He scrawled his will on the attic rafters, then hacked an escape through either a roof or an attic window, we’re not sure which. A man passing in a rowboat rescued him.

After the flood, the house was moved up to its current higher and drier location, and my grandparents bought the farm in the 1950s. When my grandparents remodeled the house, they found that homeowner’s writing, his last will and testament on the attic rafter. It was one of those stories about the house our family would talk about.

When I found that same story recounted in a published flood narrative during my research, and I was able to match up the name from the story with the former owner of our family home, history came alive for me. Family history lives if we breathe into it our interest and our intention. Remember with me in my novels, and revisit your own history when you can. In remembering you’ll find your place in a story, one worth sharing with the next generation.

BTW, If you haven’t already, you might begin with Seven Kinds of Rain: River Saga Book One. Then you’ll be ready for Remember How It Rained: River Saga Book Two.

 

*photo by Webber from noaa.gov, courtesy Joe Torrey

COUNTDOWN: Five Days Until Release for Remember How It Rained

 

FIVE HARROWING DAYS

. . . in history, as the 1935 Republican River Flood disaster unfolded, traveling from west to east:1

  1. Intense rainfall in Eastern Colorado on May 30, 1935, set the flood in motion.
  2. The river floodwaters first gathered on May 31, 1935 in Colorado, near the town of Cope.
  3. The flood gathered strength from tributaries as it flowed west, reaching Oxford, Nebraska around 4 a.m. on June 1st.
  4. Superior, Nebraska flooded by 1 a.m. on June 2nd.
  5. Floodwaters reached Clay Center, Kansas on June 3rd by 2 a.m. See maps and diagrams of the flood’s progress here.

*photo from noaa.gov, courtesy Joe Torrey

I’d Rather Forget the Whole Thing

It’s Easier That Way, Right?

We’ve all said it. I’d rather forget the whole thing. And it’s true. Given the choice, we’d rather leave behind the unfortunate twists, the impulsive decisions, and the sad endings. We’d toss the old newspapers, Photoshop the mugshots, and rip those ambiguous, embarrassing relatives from the family album.

We tell ourselves, let it go. Nobody wants to see that side of who we are. That might be Too Much Information. Worse, people will gossip, laugh or judge. It’s tempting to retouch or select our pictures, maybe even our entire history, to show only our best, public selves. All ballet and balance, no banana-peel slips or pratfalls. No driving off the bridge. But nobody can hold that pose or balance for long.

The truth is, everybody falls.

Individuals. Families. Cultures. Nations. Although painful, a fall can be more telling, more significant in forming character, than the bounce that preceded it. As individuals, as neighbors, as citizens and as cultures, we have fallen and will continue to fall. Sometimes we lie to cover what we’ve done, to avoid consequences, or to look better than we are. Sometimes we twist things around, bragging about our shameful actions. We record them and put them on Facebook or Twitter (those places where nothing is forgotten). We lose our capacity to see ourselves honestly, in our broken, hilarious, fragile, destructive humanity.

At our worst, we’ve also lied, blotted records, torn out pages, violated others and cultivated ongoing disasters that might yet be averted. A false self-esteem that insists it’s never fallen, has never done wrong, and then blames the victim is the core of narcissism.

How to Be a Real Hero (not that guy)

When seen through a lens of humility, the history of our falls becomes the essence of our heroic journeys. We fall, but we can get up conscientiously. We can ask what happened. We can show remorse, learn from errors, listen to others, acknowledge harm, resolve to do better, and ultimately, initiate durable reconciliation. Maybe even build a better world.

But It’s So . . . Embarrassing.

Falls and failures are by nature unpleasant things we’d rather forget. We are (knowingly or unknowingly) guilty of ongoing indifference, racism, unjustified violence, even acts of terrorism and racial extermination. These are not mere incidents, but ingrained habits. We’d rather omit the ugliness, but if we find and acknowledge our place in our (his)tory, we claim the power to write a new chapter and a better ending. We earn a shot at being truly great.

Let’s remember together, doing the research to fill in the blanks. Let’s read and write stories that bring overshadowed facts into the light. There are funny parts we can remember, too, and golden, everyday moments we should cherish.

Durable, Everyday Things

Remember our ancestors and how they lived. Let their voices and ongoing presence inspire us. Admire the toughness and sacrifices of those who came before. Celebrate the myths, question their origins and open up history to diverse narratives and voices. Let’s examine our stories with humility and courage, and then resolve to make amends. Let’s earn a truly heroic tale to tell our children.

Sometimes You Need to Go Home Again

Find your place in a story. It’s my mantra, my trademark, my storytelling obsession, to lead readers into history to find something new, something worth keeping, and better yet, something worth changing. Remember How It Rained, River Saga Book Two will take my readers back to the American Great Plains in a time of economic depression and drought, the 1930s. It was a desperate, dirty, thirsty, hungry time that shaped our families and our nation. Bootleggers, sharecroppers, gangsters, wayward women, abandoned children, stingy relatives, child labor, bare-knuckle fights and time served . . . and that’s just my family. In ways your family may not even be ready to admit, the Great Depression probably shaped you, too.

In Remember How It Rained, Maggie, Jack and Kuruk are still reeling from what they suffered as children. They must decide to either keep running or dare to return and remember. Facing the truth of the past and taking action can be terrifying, but remembering is where justice begins.

So, dear readers, Remember How it Rained is coming January 27, 2017. If you’d be so kind as to share this post, I’d greatly appreciate it.

I’ll be celebrating the novel’s release with a book club that’s grown near and dear to my heart, The Book Babes of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. People talking about books . . . what a great way to remember who we are.

What better way to find your place in a story™?

 

(Thanks to http://publicdomainarchive.com/public-domain-images-1920′s-vintage-mugshots-nswpd-special-photographs/ for images in this post.)

 

 

Delbert’s Weir, a great YA survival story

Welcome to Delbert’s Weir, a great YA survival story by Carmen Peone

Today I have the great pleasure of introducing a Women Writing the West® member and author friend, Carmen Peone, and her novel Delbert’s Weir, a great YA survival story. I read this novel last week and found it not only an intriguing survival tale, but also a believable and engaging coming-of-age story.

Clearly Carmen has history parenting, teaching or otherwise guiding teenaged boys! She captures the language and nuances of growing friendship, emerging Christian faith and everyday conflict among 16-year-olds. She’s also done her historical and cultural research, which I respect immensely. This historical novel comes alive in her well-crafted words.

delberts-weir-ebookforweb

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Summary: In a time when the west was still untamed, sixteen-year-old Delbert Gardner leads two friends into the backcountry for a three-day adventure. Little did they know three days of hunting and fishing would turn into eight days of near starvation, injury and illness. When hope of returning home seems out of reach, Delbert recalls watching his Native American friends construct a fishing weir and sets out to build one himself. To him, it is the only way out.

A Story that Begins with Family

Carmen Peone has family history among the Colville Tribes and spent a great deal of time gathering information from tribal members and history about something I’d never heard of . . . a fishing weir, a fencing and net apparatus used to capture fish in rivers and streams.

Native Fishing Weirs and the Columbia River

Carmen shared with me these insights to fishing and weirs in Native life along the Columbia River:

“For the Plateau Natives, salmon was the main staple. That is until Grand Coulee Dam was built in 1942. In the final draft of the plans for the dam, a fish ladder was omitted. Since then, salmon have ceased the 700-mile migration to the Kettle Falls to spawn.

“Elders talk of young warriors standing out over the falls on wooden platforms with large nets catching those salmon that were too weak to jump the 50-foot falls prior to the dam’s construction.

“Legends, including how Coyote brought salmon to the people from the mouth of the Columbia River to the Arrow Lakes band of the Colville Tribes, have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries in an oral tradition. Those legends have now been recorded and can be found on the tribe’s website: colvilletribes.com. Sons and daughters of elders are currently recording legends so the flames that keep culture brightly burning in the hearts of the people remain alive.  Tradition and culture are fading as young people’s interests have turned to technology and the future.

weir-1“The Colville Tribe is sinking its hooks into the past, dragging tradition along, breathing new life into an almost forgotten slice of culture–fence-style weir fishing. I have managed to dredge this custom from the bottom of the river, helping the tribes bring it into the forefront with a new young adult fiction book titled Delbert’s Weir.

weir-2

“Four years ago, Tribal Fish and Wildlife erected an aluminum fence style fishing weir and stretched it across the Okanogan River near Omak, WA. They now catch thousands of salmon each summer, filleting and freezing the meat for tribal members and their families. It may not be wind dried like the old days, but it is a way of providing traditional food to the people. The fishing weir is the inspiration of my book Delbert’s Weir. The weir in my book is actually made of cottonwood, the traditional wood used in this area. My character uses horsehair to tie the poles together. Indian hemp or the inner fibers of cattail stock or tule were used as well. Both fibers were also used to make fish nets.”

I appreciate Carmen’s presence  on my blog, and I highly recommend Delbert’s Weir to those adults and young adults interested in Pacific Northwest Native histories and traditions. It’s a great read for deepening historical understanding of the Colville Tribes and insight to their relationships with the earth and water. It also could be used to prompt discussion about how environmental changes and government water management policies deeply affect diverse communities’ traditions and food resources. All in all, Delbert’s Weir is a well-told story of finding one’s courage to survive, with a can’t-put-it-down opportunity for deep learning across cultures.

An Excerpt from Delbert’s Weir:

He watched the leaves of the quaking aspen ripple in the breeze as if to encourage him. “Get up. Keep going,” is what they seemed to say. His mind flashed images of him watching Pekam. He and some other men walked up a stream and pushed fish toward traps. The same traps he’d made.

Delbert jumped to his feet and sprinted to camp. He shook each tent, even his own in the wake of excitement and yelled, “Get up!”

Jed popped his head out first, a grumpy frown on his face.

Ross attempted to open his blinking eyes.

“Come on. Get dressed. Daylights a burnin’. We’ve got work to do.”

Ross rolled over on his back and groaned. “What’re you babbling about?”

“The traps are empty, but I have a plan.” Delbert shook the tents until the boys crawled out. “Pekam spoke to me. No, God did, through Pekam.”

Jed’s sleepy eyes strained to focus. “What?”

“This better be worth it,” Ross sneered.

“I was sure there would be fish in at least one of them. But listen, when I was young, I saw Pekam and his pals walk up a creek toward different types of fish traps filling ‘em pretty fast. I think we should try it. It’s like herding cattle, but with fish. In water.”

“Now?” Jed complained. “Can’t we at least give the horses a drink first?”

Delbert turned his attention to Jed. “When did you start caring about the horses’ well-being?” Delbert felt hair on the back of his neck spike outward, so he spoke in a calm, slow tone, “Did you hear me?”

“Yes, I heard you. Did you hear me? It’s early. I wanna finish sleepin’.”

“Sure ya do.” Ross walked off.

“Hey, we can water the horses. Then how ‘bout trying to catch some breakfast.  How’d ya like worms for breakfast?  If you’re really fast, maybe you can snatch a grasshopper or two with a flick of your tongue.  I’ll start callin’ ya frog, or does toad suit ya?  Or would ya like to go on a Sunday afternoon stroll?” Delbert felt his patience leave his body as quickly as his last meal disappeared from his fish-oiled fingers.

Ross glared at him.

Delbert held out his hands. “You got a better idea? We’re outta of food. You think it’s gonna magically drop on our plates, cooked and all?” His tone sounded as impatient as a hungry wolf.

“Well, no…” Ross slouched and rubbed his eyes.

“Well, let’s get goin’.” Delbert marched toward the beach. He sat on the cool, damp sand, tore off his boots, and rolled up his pants. He slid the tip of his toe in and shivered.

Jed grunted and followed. He sat beside Delbert and peeled off his socks.

Ross straggled behind. He sat a spell before he yanked off his boots and rolled up his pants, grumbling about the injustice. “Maybe we need to cut off the legs of our britches. I have a feeling we may be in there–a lot.” He tilted his head toward the creek.

Delbert stared at his bare feet. No need to stir those two up any more than they already are. “Okay. Let’s walk downstream a ways, check things out, and meander back up.”

“Yep.” Ross’s eyebrow twitched. “Whatever you say, boss.”

Ross’ll be eatin’ his words soon enough.

carmen-peone-2forweb

Author Bio:

Carmen Peone has lived in Northeast Washington, on the Colville Confederated Indian Reservation since 1988 gleaning knowledge from family and friends.  She had worked with tribal elder, Marguerite Ensminger, for three years learning the Arrow Lakes-Sinyekst- Language and various cultural traditions and legends. She has owned and trained her horses for thirteen years and competed in local Extreme Challenge Competitions for three years.  She lives with her husband and tribal member Joe.  They have four grown sons who are also tribal members and seven grandchildren.  With a degree in psychology, the thought of writing never entered her mind, until she married her husband and they moved to the reservation after college. She came to love the people and their heritage and wanted to create a legacy for her sons.

Buy Links for Delbert’s Weir:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=carmen+peone

Barns and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/carmen+peone?_requestid=709814

Carmen Peone’s Links to Social Media:

Website and blog: http://carmenpeone.com/

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4862063.Carmen_Peone

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarmenEPeone/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/carmenpeone

About me: http://carmenpeone.com/about/

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Carmen-Peone/e/B00A92O4R4/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1451363711&sr=8-1

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=AAIAAAc0cLgBl2D1zC4yDzz9aHb0cyvqDneZFA0&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile_pic

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/carmenpeone/

 

 

 

 

Náápiikoan Winter: Book Review

Náápiikoan Winter by Alethea Williams

When one nation strives to dominate another for economic gain, more than money is at stake. Cultures, lives, passions, traditions and human needs also fall in sacrifice. This realization resonates through the deeply-woven story line and intriguing characters of Alethea Williams’s novel, Náápiikoan Winter.

Naapiikoan-Winter-Coverweb

As we writers do when we deliver a new novel, Alethea Williams provided a review copy of this book for my consideration. Although I don’t know Ms. Williams personally, I offered to review her book because I read primarily historical fiction about the Great Plains and American West. When I do, I look for that magical blend of re-examined history and story, careful truth and colorful imagination. In short, a believable story well told.

Náápiikoan Winter is an ambitious novel; it sets out to portray an epic view in very personal detail. It captures a turning point in the American West when Native tribes face the crisis of aggressive English and French trading and exploration. This novel succeeds, through well-integrated research, in making this intense, global crisis feel immediate and personal. Several characters bond and clash to demonstrate the spiritual and material treasures at stake for Native and European interests at the turn of the 19th Century, on the as-yet uncharted North American continent.

Strong Characters Collide

The first key character in the book is a young Mexican girl who grows into one of the significant women in this story, Buffalo Stone Woman. I won’t spoil the plot, but young Isobel undergoes personal and cultural trauma and transformations. After a strong introduction to Isobel, the author only hints at most of her adolescent changes, but they ultimately situate Isobel to sense oncoming disaster and try to save her adopted Pììkáni tribe.

The second key character is Donal Thomas, a Náápiikoan (meaning Old Man Person, a term given by the Siksikà to White traders, out of respect for their many wonders). The seventeen-year-old boy, indentured to the Hudson Bay Company for seven years, is sent against his will to the Rocky Mountains to learn and to trade. He is a fascinating character, depicted well from within (ambitious, yet traumatized by his childhood), and through the eyes of Native characters. I found Donal believable as he naively and unwittingly precipitates several levels of social, spiritual and domestic disaster for the Pììkáni, who welcome and host him for the winter.

Ms. Williams develops many other Native characters into clear and interesting individuals who struggle for tribal status, safety or love. One of particular interest and beauty is Sweetgrass Woman, a credible teenage girl who longs for respectability and self-determination in a tribal culture that has already decided her domestic role. Her confused attempt for spiritual autonomy through association with Buffalo Stone Woman is particularly touching. I also appreciate the depth and complexity of Bear Dog, who could have easily remained a one-dimensional “bad guy,” yet he, with his devious longing for acceptance, feels complex and human. Also deeply satisfying is the character of Saahkómaapi, the elderly dreamer who squabbles with his wife, hungers for more women, and risks everything to protect his people’s medicine from Náápiikoan.

A Wild, Believable West

Náápiikoan Winter doesn’t romanticize tribal or individual behavior or suffering. Complex tribal and inter-tribal politics, family rivalries, and White disruption of these dynamics—all are well-depicted, often through tense, yet subtle confrontations. Several well-drawn secondary characters sense, but don’t know how to resist, the looming “white wings” of the traders and the civilization they signify. The goods and relationships the traders bring to the tribe are attractive, yet unrelentingly erode Pììkáni religion, leadership, decision-making and survival through this one Náápiikoan winter, and through those to come.

The Writer’s Strength

In addition to her intuitively-integrated research, one aspect of storytelling Ms. Williams manages well is what I’ve learned to call “knowledge gaps.” She skillfully withholds and manages key information, giving the characters and reader just enough knowledge, but keeping all in the dark for just long enough, to keep the pages turning.

When I closed the covers of Náápiikoan Winter, I felt a sense of loss for a time in history. I felt a connection to place, and regret for characters and cultures who would have no happy-ever-after, romantic ending. I respected the author for not glossing over a hard telling of a story that seemed true, both in facts and in details. I felt the dust of the past clinging to me. I had that echo—of living character voices and cultures intimately experienced—that I get from fine historical fiction.

Recommendation

I highly recommend Náápiikoan Winter to readers who like strongly-researched fiction about the clash of cultures and diverse individuals, in North American history.

Alethea headshot

Alethea Williams, author

Alethea Will

Náápiikoan Winter may be purchased at:

Barnes and Noble online: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/naapiikoan-winter-alethea-williams/1123779705?ean=9781532710568

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Naapiikoan-Winter-Alethea-Williams-ebook/dp/B01EIQNCMO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472572992&sr=8-1&keywords=naapiikoan-winter-alethea-williams

Read more about Alethea’s work at: http://actuallyalethea.blogspot.com

Goodreads Giveaway for Seven Kinds of Rain

Seven Kinds of Rain historical novel cover

Seven Kinds of Rain, a new historical novel to be released July 1, 2016, is now open for entries via a Goodreads giveaway. These are Advance Reader Edition copies, and will be shipped to you with no obligation (although I’d be grateful if you’d review it, even anonymously!) There’s no charge to enter, just click on the Enter Giveaway link in the entry box below.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Seven Kinds of Rain by K. Lyn Wurth

Seven Kinds of Rain

by K. Lyn Wurth

Giveaway ends May 17, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Book One of the River Saga, Seven Kinds of Rain revives three unwanted children’s voices, a tall-grass prairie scarred by railroad tracks, the mythic frontier’s fading heartbeat, and the violence that stole the West.

Enter now for your chance to preview Seven Kinds of Rain!

Race and Riots on the Great Plains

Omaha Will Brown Lynch Mob 1919

The Red Summer of 1919

Race and riots on the Great Plains were truths stranger than fiction in 1919.

In Seven Kinds of Rain, my upcoming novel, White settlers prosper in boomtown Darkwater Creek, Nebraska. For others—immigrants, African Americans and Native Americans—life in Darkwater Creek proved less than prosperous or peaceful. While explored in fiction, these racial complexities reflect Great Plains reality in the early 20th Century.

In the Red Summer of 1919, race riots led by White citizens inflamed 20 major American industrial cities, including Omaha, Nebraska. In Omaha, federal investigators and the press claimed the riots resulted from the influx of African American strikebreakers in 1917, who worked in the stockyards and meatpacking industries.

What you wouldn’t have seen spelled out in the newspapers in those days, but is mentioned in Seven Kinds of Rain, was the criminal political machine in Omaha led by Tom Dennison, and how, in cooperation with the Omaha Bee, it exploited labor strife and racial tensions for its own gain during that Red Summer. Dennison and his machine eventually elected “Cowboy” Jim Dahlman mayor of Omaha eight times, securing their interests and racially polarizing an entire city.

Tom Dennison

Political Boss Tom Dennison,
photo from NE State Historical Society

In 1910, Omaha had the third largest black population among the new western cities that had become destinations following Reconstruction. By 1920, the black population more than doubled to over 10,000, second only to Los Angeles with nearly 16,000. It was ahead of San Francisco, Oakland, Topeka, and Denver.1

Race and Riots on the Great Plains

 

Will Brown photo from NE State Historical Society

Will Brown
photo from NE State Historical Society

Racial discrimination in Omaha affected most immigrants and minorities, but emotions ran high against African Americans in the early 20th Century. When a young man, Willie Brown, was arrested for the rape of a white woman, Agnes Loebeck, in September, 1919, racial antagonism exploded. Thousands of angry whites, fueled by racism and a Dennison-inspired inflammatory press, first attempted to hang political reformer and Mayor Edward Smith (Tom Dennison’s opponent). Although the Mayor was saved, a courthouse siege and fire followed, with police officers, a newspaper reporter, and prisoners, including Willie Brown, trapped inside. The mob, demanding Willie Brown, fueled the courthouse fire with formaldehyde and gasoline until Willie Brown was surrendered. The mob lynched him and burned his body in the street, but unsatisfied with this, continued its violence until federal troops were called in to restore order. (This blog, US Slave, provides an interesting account of Omaha’s political situation, the riots, and more photos.)

Omaha Will Brown Lynch Mob 1919, Race and Riots on the Great Plains

Out of respect for Will Brown, his image has been cropped from this photo of the gloating lynch mob, who mug for the camera and watch as his body burns.

Eventually, 120 White citizens in Omaha were charged or indicted by a grand jury, with few prosecutions. All were eventually released without serving any imprisonment.

“After the Omaha riot, the Ku Klux Klan became established in 1921. Another racial riot took place in North Platte, Nebraska in 1929. There were also violent strikes in the Omaha meat packing industry in 1917 and 1921 and concerns about immigrants from Eastern Europe.

“After the riot, the city of Omaha, previously a city in which ethnicities and races were mixed in many neighborhoods, became more segregated. Redlining and restrictive covenants began to be used in new neighborhoods, with African Americans restricted to owning property where they already lived in greatest number, in North Omaha. Although segregation has not been legally enforced for generations, a majority of Omaha’s black population still lives in North Omaha.”2

The value of diversity and the foundation of civil rights are ongoing lessons on the Great Plains, as they are in most of the world. But the early 20th Century was a bloody time for African Americans and other minorities in Nebraska, even outside the big cities. While lynching was a common form of vigilante “justice” in the early West, It’s reported that:

“. . . even in the West and Midwest, with far smaller non-white populations, lynching became increasingly racialized by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Latinos bore the brunt of mob vengeance in some western states such as California, while in others, such as Wyoming, Chinese and African Americans were disproportionately represented in the catalog of lynching victims when compared to their numbers in the overall population. Three Native Americans were among Judge Lynch’s ten victims in North Dakota. Kansas lynched eighteen African Americans from 1880 to 1920. Five black men and two Mexicans perished at the hands of Nebraska mobs from 1878 to 1919. The five African Americans represented about eight percent of the probable total of fifty-eight individuals dispatched by Nebraska lynch mobs between 1859 and 1919. During the same period, African Americans never exceeded one percent of the state’s population.”3

While I only scratch the surface of this aspect of Nebraska history, what seems important to remember is that racism had a firm hold on early 20th-Century Great Plains culture. Immigrants from Europe, Asia and Mexico, post-Restoration African Americans seeking work and prosperity, and Native Americans (both on and off reservations), faced resistance to their personhood and civil rights. In Seven Kinds of Rain, discrimination and violence against African Americans and Native Americans is not only mentioned, but pulses through the story.

As one born in Nebraska, and whose roots still tangle there, I write about these ongoing concerns with a heavy, and yet hopeful heart, that history may prove a valuable lesson, and not a recurring nightmare, as we find ourselves, and our way to mutual respect and peace, in this story.

Notes:

1 Taylor, Quintard. In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West. ‪W. W. Norton & Company, May 17, 1999. 416 pages. Ref pages 204-205.

2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omaha_race_riot_of_1919

3 James E Potter, “‘Wearing the Hempen Neck-Tie’ : Lynching in Nebraska, 1858-1919,” Nebraska History 93 (2012): 138-153. View at: http://www.nebraskahistory.org/publish/publicat/history/full-text/NH2012Lynching.pdf

Photos of Will Brown and Tom Dennison originate from NE State Historical Society and Omaha.com.

Magpie as Pawnee Presence

As I revisited (in research and in travel) the Republican River Valley of The Darkwater Liar’s Account for my next novels, I sought to learn about people of all races who lived and died in that region. My research led to the Pawnee tribe, with its Skidi, Kitkehahki and Chaui bands, who historically and currently call Nebraska and Kansas their ancestral home. Learning invoked my respect, which encouraged further study and blessed encounters with two Pawnee tribal members, who helped me see how the Pawnee people and culture remain vital today. In all of this, I learned about Magpie as Pawnee presence.

Magpie was a significant animal and spiritual figure to the Pawnee, as evident in stories recorded by George Amos Dorsey (1868-1931). G.A. Dorsey was an American ethnographer of North American Indigenous people and an anthropologist for the Field Columbian Museum. He is both a helpful and troublesome character for me in terms of research, as he documented a great deal of Native folklore, even as he desecrated and plundered Native graves and regarded Indigenous people and customs as relics of dead civilizations. Yet, I had to appreciate that several of Dorsey’s Pawnee stories, recorded in his The Pawnee: Mythology, feature Magpie as recounted by specific, named members of the three Pawnee bands in the waning years of the 19th Century.

A few of the traditional stories tell how Magpie stood out from other birds as a helper to humans, an intercessor and actor who would guide the lost and bring healing. Even though I was once-removed from the first storytellers, reading Dorsey’s translation from the Caddoan Pawnee language, I felt a quaver of the old voices through the pages, across time. My world view is far from theirs, but I treasure their meaningful accounts of Magpie and the other powerful animals and characters in their tradition, such as Coyote and Bear. So much so, that I wove a few into my next two novels.

In my next post, I’ll talk about Magpie as a character in my writing, and how I received my own blessing from this bird. (And thanks to Nanette Day, a writer, editor, publishing consultant and friend, for this post’s key illustration, which she designed with a quote from one of my previous posts.)

Greeting a Magpie

My first childhood experience of greeting a magpie was in Estes Park, Colorado, in a parking lot. When I held a cracker or cookie or some other object overhead, a magpie would swoop down and take it. This interaction with people impressed me, as did the rushing, iridescent black feathers and sizzling white belly feathers on that swooping bird. Reading about magpies since, I find they have a reputation as highly intelligent thieves of shiny objects, especially in captivity.

Magpies are members of the corvid, or crow family, as are rooks, jays and nutcrackers. There are different magpie varieties, with the most widespread American bird being the type I met in Estes Park, the black-billed magpie, Pica hudsonia. Another variety with a yellow bill, Pica nuttalli, inhabits only woodland regions of central and southern California. The non-corvid Australian magpie, Cracticus tibicen, is a piebald bird. There’s also an entire genus of blue-green magpies in the Orient, Urocissa, and the azure-winged Cyanopica. A distant Corvidae relative, the black magpie Platysmurus leucoptyrus, is in fact a treepie and not a magpie. Take note, and thank you Wikipedia for sorting that out for us. We wouldn’t want to confuse our magpies and treepies!

I became a voracious seeker of magpie lore while researching my upcoming novel. Throughout North America, England, Germany, China, Korea and ancient Rome, the magpie appears in traditional stories and proverbs. On A Letter from the Netherlands, an expat British writer muses on how the superstition-laden magpie carries a bad reputation and is most often a bad omen in her tradition and family experience.

Reading about mythical magpies led me to reflect on the power and durability of myth, and how myths hold value for us today. In my next post, I’ll address this and greet Magpie as a mythic figure.

(Thanks to Christophe Libert for use of his magpie photo!)