Category: Pawnee

COUNTDOWN: Three Days to Remember How It Rained

Floodwaters in Alma, Nebraska

THREE separate references to earlier (pre-1935) Republican River floods . . .

 

. . . from Native lore and local retelling, as recorded by Follansbee and Spiegel in 1937:

“For the Republican River, as for many other western streams, there is the usual Indian tradition of a higher flood before the days of the white man. Engineers, in the course of their investigations of the flood of May and June of 1935, found three separate references to such flood. An old Indian in the vicinity of Benkelman made the statement that 40 years before he was born there was a great flood 2 feet higher than that of 1935. As he was about 70 years old, this would date the legendary flood as approximately 1826. A resident near Cambridge stated that when his father settled the Republican River bottoms would be flooded out, as he had seen, while a boy, the waters ‘extending from bluff to bluff.’ At Red Cloud several residents stated that one of Chief Red Cloud’s relatives who lived nearby was authority for the statement that more than 100 years ago a flood covering the bottoms “from bluff to bluff” had occurred. These statements are consistent and apparently had partial historic confirmation. At the time of this earlier flood there were no white settlers in the Republican River Basin, and the only white travelers were fur traders on the way from St. Louis to the Rocky Mountains and points beyond. Search through the available writings of these travelers fails to reveal any reference to such a flood. It is therefore necessary to rely on inferential evidence from localities where whites had settled.”

(Follansbee and Spiegel, 1937, pg 50.)

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

A New Kind of Rain

A Change in the Weather

You could say it’s a new kind of rain. Or seven kinds, to be clear.

Imagining, researching, crafting and editing. Three years of cultivating Seven Kinds of Rain are about to bear fruit. That’s a long time to wait for a crop, but so it goes with writing novels. Seven Kinds of Rain, River Saga Book One is available for purchase this Friday, July 1.

I’ve read about and walked through the environment and history of my beloved Nebraska and Kansas Republican River Valley. I’ve developed, challenged, and deepened my characters. The result? Seven Kinds of Rain is a story about the early 20th-Century Great Plains, about marginalized people who struggle to survive. It’s also about how, by reconsidering history, we can make the world a better place today.

http://klynwurth.net/book/seven-kinds-of-rain-river-saga-book-one/

What About that Bird? And Is That a Tornado?

Now, a little background for the cover design. The magpie represents not only actual birds who appear in the story, but also Magpie, a significant and powerful figure in Pawnee culture and legends. Magpie also becomes the nickname for a character, Margaret Rose. The window and wall where Magpie perches represent an inside view of the riverside treehouse where the three children gather. The storm clouds in the distance and the descending tornado signify the importance of rain and weather disasters in the characters’ interests, in the plot and in Great Plains history. As for the title, I’ll leave you to read the book to find out what that means. I can’t tell you everything!

Writing Brings Change

Since my first novel’s publication in 2013, I’ve become more deeply committed to this writing life. I’ve met people who’ve read The Darkwater Liar’s Account, and they’ve overwhelmed me with their love and support. I’ve made countless friends through Women Writing the West, strong writers who’ve improved my writing and galvanized my commitment to telling stories of the Great Plains and the American West. You can learn more about that here.

Available Now, for Your Imagination

Book marketing is harder than writing, and much less fun. The shameless self-promotion involved is embarrassing at times, and I’m no social media whiz. Yet, I’d like to invite you, gentle reader, to take a chance on my novel, Seven Kinds of Rain, River Saga Book One. And then, if you like it, recommend it to a friend or leave a brief review online (amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, or Goodreads.). The number of words doesn’t matter…as in so many things, it’s just showing up that counts.

You can preorder Seven Kinds of Rain now online (CreateSpace, Amazon or Barnes and Noble), if you like to shop that way. It’s also available through Ingram’s bookstore distribution service, if you prefer to shop at your local bookstore on or after July 1, which I strongly encourage you to do. I love bookstores. I need bookstores, and so do you. So please spend money there whenever you can.

But Wait…There’s More Coming!

I hope you’ll read and enjoy Margaret Rose, Jack and Kuruk. They’ve become some of my favorite people, so much so that I had to give them another book to live in, along with more changes in the weather. You’ll read more about them in Seven Kinds of Rain‘s sequel, for now mysteriously subtitled Book Two of the River Saga. I’ll announce that novel’s full title later. I’m hard at work on the sequel’s rewrite (meaning the full story’s on paper, undergoing quality reconstruction.) I intend to publish River Saga Book Two in January of 2017, so you won’t have long to wait for more of the same characters you’ll come to know in Seven Kinds of Rain.

For those of you who are already ordering, reading and reviewing Seven Kinds of Rain, thank you for your interest and kind comments. I treasure you, my readers. I hope my writing will be some of your best summer reading.

With words of gratitude and love,

Kelly

Nebraska, 1900: Where Are the Pawnee?

Sculpture near Naponee Nebraska

Driven From Home

In my upcoming novel, Seven Kinds of Rain, one of my main characters is Kuruk, a Kitkehahki Pawnee character born in Oklahoma around 1904. As a child, he runs away from different Indian schools to finally establish a tenuous existence in the heart of his ancestral homeland. Yet, in the early 1900s there were few, if any, Pawnee tribal members living in that part of Nebraska. For my writing, I set out, into libraries and on a trip through the Republican River Valley of Kansas and Nebraska to more deeply understand this change.

Looking back to Nebraska in 1900, where are the Pawnee?

For the following information, I draw heavily and cite page numbers from David Wishart’s powerful book, An Unspeakable Sadness: The Dispossession of the Nebraska Indians. I encourage you to consult it for more information on the course of Indian tribal histories in Nebraska. It was one of my most useful resources for understanding the devastations of regional history, and gave me insight to the injustices visited on Plains Indian tribes in the 1800s and 1900s.

The Pawnee’s Chaui, Skiri and Kitkehahki bands traditionally inhabited much of the region the U.S. divided into Nebraska and Kansas.

Pawnee territory map

They made their homes, circular, domed riverbank earth lodges, and raised some crops, living off native plants and hunting native animals.

model of Pawnee earth lodge

model of Pawnee earth lodge at Pawnee Historical Museum

They seasonally migrated west for buffalo hunts, utilizing portable hide-covered dwellings.

Pawnee Family Summer Home

I learned about Kitkehahki Pawnee band plains life, as it flourished in the 1700s and early 1800s, at the Pawnee Indian Museum near Republic, Kansas, where I saw this and other Pawnee portraits by George Catlin.

George Catlin painting of Man Chief, a Kitkehahki (Republican) Pawnee

George Catlin painting of Man Chief, a Kitkehahki (Republican) Pawnee

A series of government-engineered cessions of Pawnee lands during the 1800s (most of which occurred against a backdrop of tribal starvation and decimation by disease) drove the Pawnee into smaller and smaller spaces. By 1844, the meager Pawnee annuities expired, and in 1848, they lost rights to all lands south of the Platte River. (Wishart, 66) By 1858, all four Nebraska Indian societies had sold the last of their tribal lands, apart from small reservations. (69) Neglect by reservation agencies, conflicts with White settlers, and repeated intertribal conflicts further weakened the Pawnee, making Nebraska reservation life near the Loup River at best unstable, and at worst, untenable. (132)

An 1857 treaty required all Pawnee children between the ages of seven and eighteen to attend school. (179) The continuity of Pawnee culture was even more completely disrupted, as was that off all Indian tribes, by the American government’s Indian School policies of the 19th and 20th Centuries. One such Indian Industrial School was located at Genoa, Nebraska, and while some Genoa and other Indian school students reported being pleased with their American education and acculturation, for many others, their separation from family and the attempts at assimilation they suffered were devastating, sending trauma down through generations of Native families.

Genoa Indian Industrial School

Genoa Indian Industrial School photo from usgennet.org

After the Kansas-Nebraska act, and by the 1870s, the Pawnee in Nebraska suffered from White settlement and theft of Pawnee land and resources, including timber, along the Loup and Platte rivers. By 1873-1875, the Pawnee were squeezed out and relocated to Oklahoma Indian Territory. (188)

Nebraska, 1900: Where are the Pawnee?

On their allotted reservation lands in Oklahoma, the Pawnee and other Plains Indian tribes came together to embrace change, wrestling with the government for decades and adapting to survive legislated deprivations and broken promises. Some of the young people became outwardly modern, educated in White ways, even as their elders preserved traditions, as in this photo.

Pawnee father and son, 1912

Pawnee father and son, 1912

Long removed from their ancestral lands, the Pawnee have re-established a presence on their sacred land near the Loup River, an interesting development I’ll address in a later post. Both on and off the reservation, the Pawnee flourish and their population is on the rise. But in the early 1900s, a Pawnee character in Nebraska would seem to have been unlikely. Yet, from my authorial standpoint, one seemed necessary, to expose and explore the injustices of history.

So Kuruk Sky Seeing came to be. I hope I have done him some justice, by showing his dispossession, his fragility, and his tenacity in the place he insisted on calling home, against a world that insists he doesn’t belong off the reservation.

 

*All page numbers (in parentheses) refer to: Wishart, David J. An Unspeakable Sadness: the Dispossession of the Nebraska Indians. Lincoln, Neb.: U of Nebraska, 1994.

 

 

Magpie and Ancestral Voices

Mr. Magpie photo by Keith Williams to be used on Seven Kinds of Rain book cover

In my upcoming novel, the title of which I will soon announce, Magpie and ancestral voices are inseparable. Magpie is a figure of myth and a real bird, but also the nickname for one of my central characters. In the story, Margaret Rose doesn’t choose that nickname for herself, but it is apt. She’s both dark and light, smart, vivacious and a bit of a thief. Like the bird, she’s smart, sensitive, loyal and eager to make use of what others leave behind.

I harbored some reservations about including magpies in my Nebraska stories. I wondered if they truly inhabited the Republican River valley, as I couldn’t remember seeing one when I was a child. I try to mind regional details, as well as historical ones, in my writing. As if to answer my concerns, when I drove along the Republican River last year for my research trip, a magpie flew low along the roadside where I traveled, showing me his white belly and glossy blue-black plumage. It seemed more than a random wildlife sighting, perhaps even a blessing on how I’m weaving the birds, the characters and the myths of Magpie into my novels.

Magpies, mystery, meaning and myths run through my writing, alongside what history would retell and science would prove. Margaret, my novel’s Magpie, loves both stories and science, as do her friends. In upcoming posts, I’ll discuss about other folktales, rhymes and mythical threads I’m weaving into the early 1900s characters, along with scientific theories and historical events.

The epigraph I’ve chosen for the book is a verse from Psalm 78. I claim no Biblical authority with these words, nor do I announce any religious theme or agenda for my little book. Rather, the quote expresses my belief that we should hold on to all the stories we receive from ancestors, and bring them to light for generations.

I will open my mouth in a parable, things we have known from of old, things our ancestors have told us.         Psalm 78

When we braid the old stories with our own, our lives become an extension of those who stood in this place before us. Even if the storytellers are not related to us by blood, their stories are one with this place, and their voices can deepen and amplify our own accounts.

No longer wandering alone in the midst of our facts, may we find ourselves illuminated by the multitude of ancestors, their presence, whimsy and wisdom. May our children and grandchildren, well-educated in science, consider also the light of history and myth.

(I’d like to give special thanks to Keith Williams, the photographer who captured this brilliant photo of Mr. Magpie, which I use as the featured image for this post. He kindly gave permission for me to use the image on the book cover of my upcoming novel…what a great guy, and an amazing photographer!)

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.)