By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky
The history of the American West is filled with larger than life characters. They ventured west (often alone) at a time in this nation’s history where determination and daring feats of bravery often decided a man’s survival.
Some demonstrated a unique strength of purpose or visionary initiative that impressed and influenced others. Frontier men, pioneers, lawmen, Pony Express riders, and soldiers remembered for contributions to their communities or wartime service they provided to their country. Some achieved success during their lifetimes. Some became more famous after their deaths. And others had their names branded in history books as villains or notorious outlaws. Good or bad, many of these characters became the stuff of legend—to such an extent the lines between fact and fiction were often blurred.
Well, when it came to William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody, what you saw was the truth, an honest man who loved the American West and lived an extraordinary life. Although he sometimes embellished certain aspects about his personal escapades for heightened drama as a showman, the fact of the matter remains this man epitomized the spirit of the West. It can honestly be said that people all over the world learned about the Wild West because of Buffalo Bill Cody.
Cody tempted death – often cheating it by the skin of his teeth. Even as a 15-year old Pony Express rider, his tenacity, courage, instinct, and skill as a rider kept him alive. Every situation he faced placed his feet more firmly upon a path of destiny that set him apart from other men.
Today, many people associate (and rightly so) Buffalo Bill Cody with the history, pageantry, and exciting entertainment he brought to worldwide audiences with his Wild West extravaganza. Yet how he came to even be in show business happened because of his larger than life reputation.
Like individual rungs on the proverbial ladder to success, the life lessons he’d acquired helped make the man and his persona. The personality traits for which he would become famous, were founded in boyhood and challenged as a Pony Express rider. Later, he was hired as Chief of Scouts for the Third Cavalry of the US Army during the Plains Wars, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1872. Even his famous nickname resulted from his skill as a hunter. Hired by the Kansas Pacific Railroad, he hunted buffalo to supply meat for railroad workers.
Every job he’d ever had came about as a result of his love of adventure and need for financial survival. And with grit and determination, he excelled at everything he did. When Russian royalty sought his personal services as a guide in 1872 for a hunting expedition in the American West, it was only a matter of time before Cody decided to take the American West on the road. Of course, the fact he’d befriended many Indians during his lifetime, and had recruited Spotted Tail and his Sioux village to join the Royal Hunt might have helped convince Cody that others needed to see what the Wild West was really about, including the skill and heritage of the American Indians.
On a side note, the Royal Hunt of 1872 opens the second Windswept Texas historical paranormal novel titled SPIRIT OF THE WIND. The story of Ethan Blake (long lost brother to Jordan Blake in WHISPER IN THE WIND) is one where Buffalo Bill Cody plays an integral role.
The fictitious relationship between Cody and reclusive Ethan Blake was essential. I simply couldn’t put a heroine in the path of Ethan too soon. I needed someone who would help put my hero on the necessary trajectory to make peace with himself and the world in which he lived. And I wanted to use someone from history. As guarded and cynical as Ethan Blake had become, trust was a huge obstacle in the crafting of his story.
How do I get a reclusive character from Point A to Point B—and on his own journey toward happiness—and in the path of the woman he is destined to love?
Enter, Buffalo Bill Cody. After all, even Sitting Bull trusted Cody, and called him friend.
Without question, the times in which Cody lived were tumultuous and violent. Still, he also sought to respect and honor people of different cultures. He was a friend and outspoken advocate for Native Americans, and supported their rights. Of their turbulent history with the white men, he once said: “Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government.”
In 1883, after years of performing in theatres as himself, Cody created an entertainment spectacular based on the Wild West. During the history of the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West spectacle (which later became Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World in 1892), more than 1,000 Native Americans were employed by Cody. They were paid good wages, and provided transportation, housing, food, and even cash bonuses and gifts at the conclusion of each season. As part of their employment contract with Buffalo Bill, all performers were required to not drink, gamble, or fight, and to conduct themselves with dignity. When the touring season ended, to ensure they didn’t get into any trouble with the law, the Native American performers and their families returned to their reservations.
Although the Wild West show depicted dramatic recreations of battles and conflicts between the white men and American Indians, Cody also wanted people to see they were more than just warriors. Wives and children accompanied the Indian performers when they traveled. He encouraged them to set up their traditional camps and teepees to show the world the beauty of their culture, artwork, and traditions.
As the son of a man who raised him to oppose slavery and oppression, Cody supported human rights. With regard to the rights of women, he spoke in favor of them being able to do any kind of work they wanted and, “if they do it as well as a man, give them the same pay.”
What I learned from my extensive research about Cody, the historical legend of the American West, was that despite the worldwide acclaim, respect, and notoriety he garnered in his public career—until the end of his days he remained a kind, down-to-earth, and caring man devoted to his beloved wife, Louisa, and his family.
A humanitarian who cared deeply for children, wherever his show performed, Cody ensured that free passes were always given to orphanages.
He was member of the Masonic Order. He believed in God, hard work, honesty, and family values.
Very often in life, especially when we read about famous people, the personal struggles and tragedies in their lives are often overlooked. However, I am a firm believer that the struggles we face and the losses we suffer have a profound effect on shaping the person we become.
Sometimes it is necessary to separate the man from the legend to gain a better perspective of the real person. After all, the positive image projected to the public can be a far cry from a person's true character. Where Buffalo Bill Cody was concerned, however, the public image and the private person were the same man.
When asked her thoughts about Cody, Annie ‘Little Sure Shot’ Oakley said he was “the kindest, simplest, most loyal man” she ever knew. She also considered him one of her staunchest friends, and someone who “personified those sturdy and lovable qualities that really made the West”. Note: Annie Oakley first signed with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West as a sharpshooter on 24 April 1885.
William Frederick ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody worked hard to provide for his family. Often that work took him far away and into dangerous situations. He loved the American West and wanted to share that love and its history with others. But most of all, he loved his family and was a loyal friend to many. And I think it was his personal integrity, relationship with his friends, and his constant devotion to his family that best exemplified the character of this man, and prompted me to feature him as a good influence on Ethan Blake in SPIRIT OF THE WIND.
Much as I liked the idea of featuring Cody, I needed a connection between Cody and Ethan Blake – one founded on trust and understanding. Why would someone as closed off as Ethan Blake confide in Cody about his past? Apart from the similarities in their occupations and experiences in the American West, I needed something powerful, something relatable.
Who better to step in and help a friend whose spirit was more dead than alive, but someone who has also seen far too much bloodshed, and who experienced tragedy and personal loss in their own life?
One cannot help but be moved to tears reading (in Cody’s own words) the helplessness he felt when illness claimed the life of his five year old son, Kit Carson Cody.
In 1876, Buffalo Bill Cody was appearing in a play in Massachusetts (based on events in his life), when he received a telegram from his wife in Rochester, New York. Their only son was dying from Scarlet Fever. Cody caught the overnight train and rushed home. As he held and tried to comfort his little boy, this strong man who’d fought and survived so many life-threatening challenges against daunting odds, could do nothing. Imagine the helplessness of the situation.
On 21 April 1876, Kit Carson Cody died in his father’s arms. At the same time, a devastated Cody and his wife had little time to grieve. Their daughters, Arta (aged 9) and Ooma (aged 4), were also gravely sick with the same illness. His daughters would survive, but tragedy would strike again in 1883 when Ooma (then 11 years old) would die from another illness.
So, what does make someone a legend? Is it fame or the manner in which they lived? Is it the legacy they left behind? The lives they touched? The insight they gave to a moment in history, helping to establish the world’s perception of a place that has all but vanished from most people’s memory?
William Frederick Cody was born on 26 February 1846 in Iowa. He died at the age of 70 on 10 January 1917 of kidney failure whilst visiting his sister in Denver. As requested by Cody, he is buried in Golden, Colorado on Lookout Mountain. For more information about this remarkable legend of the American West, you can visit the Buffalo Bill Museum and Gravesite in Golden, Colorado. There are a number of wonderful books available about Cody as well.
Thanks for stopping by today, and I hope you enjoyed my post about William Frederick ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody. And please check back for more information, release date, and excerpts from SPIRIT OF THE WIND, the second book in the Windswept Texas trilogy. ~ AKB
An Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (Col. W.F. Cody) by: William Frederick Cody (Reprint 2009) Arc Manor Classic Reprints
Buffalo Bill Cody – The Man Behind The Legend by: Robert A. Carter (2000) John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
The Many Loves of Buffalo Bill – The True Story of Life on the Wild West Show by: Chris Enss (2010) Globe Pequot Press
Buffalo Bill – Scout, Showman, Visionary by: Steve Friesen (2010) Fulcrum Publishing, Inc.
The Buffalo Bill Museum and Gravesite, Golden, CO
ABOUT ASHLEY KATH-BILSKY
Ashley Kath-Bilsky is an award-winning, best-selling author of Historical Fiction with Romance, Mystery, Suspense and/or Paranormal elements. She also writes Gothic Historical Young Adult and New Adult fiction. For more information, please visit her website at: www.ashleykathbilsky.com
You can also find her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AKathBilsky and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ashley-Kath-Bilsky/302554710513?ref=hl
Visit Ashley's Amazon Author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Ashley-Kath-Bilsky/e/B008E2ABA0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2?qid=1398914533&sr=8-2
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Monday, April 28, 2014
What was the worst writing advice you ever received? Is there any such animal as “bad writing advice”? Not according to novelist and screenwriter Chuck Wendig. "There's only advice that works for you and advice that doesn't."
Is that true? Sometimes it seems, as writers, we can get so caught up in “the rules” that we forget the story and how to tell it. We become frustrated, and it can be downright maddening to try to remember every piece of advice from every writing source we’ve ever come across and tried to use properly.
No. It's not an Amish Romance...
Translating our ideas into language is one way of looking at our writing process, but how do we start? I have to admit, I am truly a ‘pantser’, not a ‘plotter’—which is really out of character for me in every other aspect of my life. But somehow, orchestrating everything to an outline and strictly adhering to that brings out the rebel in me. I just can’t do it—and I’ve tried. Here’s an example of the differences from Richard Nordquist’s “About.com” publication on writing:
In his essay "Getting Started," John Irving writes, "Here is a useful rule for beginning: Know the story--as much of the story as you can possibly know, if not the whole story--before you commit yourself to the first paragraph." Irving has written far more novels than I. Clearly he knows what works for himself in a way that I don't always for myself, but this seems to me terrible advice. I'm more inclined to E.L. Doctorow's wisdom. He once wrote that writing . . . is like driving at night: You don't need to see the whole road, just the bit of illuminated blacktop before you.
(Debra Spark, "The Trigger: What Gives Rise to the Story?" Creating Fiction, edited by Julie Checkoway. Writer's Digest Books, 1999)
Yes. That’s what I do. I don’t always see the entire big picture, and I don’t need to from the very beginning. But I do see more than “just the bit of illuminated blacktop”—in other words, the immediate “coming up next” section of the story. So I guess I’m in category #3—Swiss cheese author—I know the basics of what’s going to happen, but even so, there are a LOT of little (and big!) surprise along the way.
Nope. Neither is this one...And by the way, this anthology held the #1 western slot at Amazon for a few days in July of last year, and contains my short story IT TAKES A MAN, which is a Western Fictioneers Peacemaker nominee in the Best Short Fiction Category for 2013
Aside from being on one side of the “plotter/pantser” fence and being told you’re wrong by the other side, what is the worst writing advice you’ve ever had? You don’t have to say who gave it to you—but I’m curious…what was it? And do you agree with the idea that there is no bad writing advice, just “advice that works for you and advice that doesn’t”? Bring on the comments and opinions! The worst writing advice I ever received? “Try to write an Amish romance. That’s what’s “hot” now…” (from an agent). What’s yours?
For some great reading, stop by Prairie Rose Publications here:
or take a look here at Painted Pony Books for reading for young and older alike:
Lots of good summer reads coming your way soon!
Saturday, April 26, 2014
When I heard about Helga Etsby, I was fascinated. Permission was given by http://www.HistoryLink.org to use the story if all credit was cited, which I have done. This story was the most complete and helpful, so I've included it rather than compiling from several sources. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.
|Helga Etsby 1860-1942|
Norwegian immigrant and suffragist Helga Estby is remembered for her heroic seven-month walk from Spokane to New York City in 1896, a publicity wager that she expected would pay her $10,000 and save the family farm from foreclosure. Leaving a husband and five children at home in Mica Creek, 36-year-old Helga and her 17-year-old daughter Clara set out from Spokane on May 6, 1896, and walked rail lines east. Helga skillfully handled a publicity campaign, stopping at newspaper offices along their route. Inspired by journalist Nelly Bly (1864-1922), Helga hoped one day to publish the story of their trip. Mother and daughter worked for food, lodging, and other needed items along the way -- never begged -- and were graciously aided by supportive and hospitable people, including famous politicians, Native Americans, journalists, and suffragists. But the journey was arduous. They climbed mountains; survived severe storms, floods, bitter cold, and heat waves; confronted wild animals; and escaped highwaymen. Together they wore out 32 pairs of shoes. Helga and Clara survived the trip of 4,600 miles and reached New York City on December 23, 1896, only to find no cash prize at the end of their amazing journey.
Early Years of Hardship
Helga Avilda Ida Marie Johanssen was born in Christiania, Norway (Oslo) in 1860 and was only 2 years old when her father died. Her mother, Karen Hendrikstatter Johanssen, eventually remarried, this time to a merchant with the surname of Haug. He had the money to send Helga to private school, where she learned English, science, and religion.
From 1874 to 1914 Norway suffered from severe economic stagnation, and a large number of its citizens emigrated to other places, with many coming to the United States. Perhaps the Haugs foresaw the pending financial problems -- they decided to move to America around 1870, before the economic turndown began. Helga's stepfather came first and secured work and a home for his wife and stepdaughter in Manistee, Michigan. Karen and Helga left for the U.S. aboard the ship Oder and arrived in Manistee on October 12, 1871. Helga was now 11 years old. She enrolled in school, improved her language skills, and began adapting to the customs of the new country.
Manistee was a thriving town, with a large population of Scandinavians. Although fire destroyed the town the year they arrived, it was quickly rebuilt. It is likely that Helga first learned about the woman suffrage issue while living there. In 1874, Michigan males were given the chance to extend the vote to women. Although the measure failed statewide, it was strongly supported in Manistee.
|Helga and Ole Etsby with children, from left to right |
Arthur, Ida, Henry, Bertha, Clara, and Olaf
In many ways, Helga and Ole's story mirrors the stories of numerous immigrants who came to the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. Arriving with great hopes for a prosperous lifestyle, they mostly labored hard just to make ends meet. From letters Ole sent to his family in Norway, it is known that he had long dreamed of having a 160-acre homestead, and he soon moved his family west, settling on prairie land in Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota, near the South Dakota border. Here the family built a typical prairie sod house with a dirt floor, certainly a step down from accommodations they had previously known. Three Estby children were born here: Ole, who died as an infant, Olaf, and Ida.
Farm life on the prairie was hard. In the summer of 1880 the harvest was excellent, but that winter turned out to be one of the coldest ever recorded. Somehow the family survived. Then fires threatened, and one afternoon the Estbys battled a blaze that nearly reached their home. Both house and barn survived, but some of their neighbors were not so lucky.
Diptheria threatened. Little was known at the time about its cause or cure, but health warnings pointed to the dangers of living in filthy conditions. When a storm known as "Black Friday" (Bold Spirit, p. 40) reached the prairie on June 19, 1885, causing considerable wreckage, followed by another severe storm only a month later, Ole and Helga decided to move on. This time they settled in the rapidly growing city of Spokane Falls, Washington.
Spokane Falls (Spokane)
By the early 1890s, the U.S. economy was booming and Spokane Falls was prospering. Ole found work easily and the Estbys were able to purchase three lots on Pine Street and 4th Avenue, a block east of Division Street. Their family was growing, with the additions of children Henry, Hedwig (Bertha), Johnny, Arthur, William, and Lillian. By the time she was 35, Helga had given birth to eight children, six of whom lived.
Spokane Falls grew too quickly, the population rising from about 6,000 to 20,000 in a few years. City officials could not keep pace with infrastructure needs. Sewage flowed in the streets and the Estby home now was only blocks away from a tough red-light district. On one dark evening, Helga stepped in a hole in an unrepaired street and badly damaged her pelvis, requiring surgery. Once again, it was time to leave. Ole purchased a farm about 25 miles southeast of Spokane, in Mica Creek, a small town populated mainly by Scandinavian immigrants.
But in April of 1893 a national credit shortage triggered a deep economic depression. Banks closed, thousands of businesses went bankrupt, railroads failed, and unemployment was high. No government relief funds existed, and it would take at least five years before the U. S. economy improved. Ole had suffered back injuries, temporarily limiting his ability to do physical labor. As the economy worsened, they borrowed against the property, taking a loan they could not repay. By 1896 the Estby family was in danger of losing their farm.
The situation called for unusual courage. Something extraordinary needed to be done and Helga devised a plan.
|Helga and Clara in 1896|
before leaving Spokane
The Wager and Preparations
An outspoken supporter of woman suffrage, Helga believed women were capable of doing anything men could do. When an East Coast party -- it was never determined who -- offered a $10,000 wager to a woman who would walk to New York City, Helga was quick to respond. Challenges were not new to her. Inspired by female journalist Nellie Bly, who traveled around the world and wrote about it, Helga contracted with the party (or parties) in New York to walk from Spokane to New York City, a distance of more than 4,000 miles, in a specified time of seven months. While it was not part of the contract and wager, Helga also hoped to publish a book based on the journals she planned to keep of the trip.
The plan must have shocked her family and neighbors. Attitudes toward women were beginning to change, but a woman's place was still considered to be in the home, caring for the family. Helga was not in good health and she was not young. Only the year before, she had given birth and was still recovering from her pelvic injury. But she was convinced that the trip would not only save their farm, it would also boost the suffrage cause, showing the strength and endurance of women. Helga asked her shy, dependable 17-year-old daughter Clara (1877-1950) to accompany her, which must have greatly relieved the family's worries. At least Helga would not be traveling alone.
A contract was drawn between Helga and the sponsoring party promising Helga and Clara $10,000 -- a huge sum of money in 1896 -- if they successfully reached their destination by a specified date. Helga agreed that they would not beg along the way but instead would work for their food, lodging, and clothing. She accurately figured that public awareness would increase as she and Clara spoke with reporters in major cities along the way.
They officially kicked off their departure with a stop at the Spokesman Review in Spokane on May 5 to announce their planned journey and then returned home to spend one last night with their family before leaving the following morning. Spokane's mayor, H. N. Belt (b. 1841), gave them a letter of introduction, which they carried with them. The state treasurer also signed and stamped the letter with the official State seal.
The two women traveled light. In their satchels they carried a compass, a map, a Smith and Wesson revolver, a pepper spray gun to thwart possible attackers, a knife, a notebook and pen, and a curling iron. Helga and Clara had a mother-daughter studio portrait taken in Spokane, which was made into carte de visite prints that they planned to sell as souvenirs. They also carried calling cards that read: "H. Estby and daughter. Pedestrians, Spokane to New York." That, and $5 cash each.
On departure day, Helga and Clara wore long gray dresses and high boots but changed clothes in Salt Lake City, and for the remainder of the trip wore short-skirt outfits designed for the new craze, bicycle riding, thus giving national attention to this new style. Before trip's end, they hand worn out 32 pairs of shoes.
Along the Way
By the 1890s the railroads ran from coast to coast and portions of the track were still new. To keep "on track," the two women walked rail lines, first the Northern Pacific to the Union Pacific, then the Rock Island line to the Burlington and Reading. This provided them access to some railroad section houses, and citizens often gave them overnight lodging. Such was the code of hospitality in 1896 America. Surprisingly, Helga and Clara spent only nine nights without shelter. To pay for their needs, they cooked, cleaned, and sewed. Most days they walked 25 to 35 miles and when they arrived in a city or town, their first stop was the local newspaper office, where they gave an updated version of their story to reporters. The trip took them to major cities: Boise, Salt Lake City, Lincoln, Des Moines, Davenport, Chicago, Fort Wayne, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Reading, and New York City.
Helga and Clara battled snowstorms, heat waves, flash floods, and washed-out bridges. They climbed mountains. Defending herself from a persistent hobo near La Grande, Oregon, Clara shot him in the leg, a story Helga relayed to a reporter at the Minneapolis Tribune. This incident gave rise to their press image as tough, gun-toting women of the Wild West. While facts often varied in newspaper accounts, each reporter found Helga and Clara articulate, well-educated, and intelligent.
|Cartoon from New York World|
December 25, 1896
By the time they reached Pennsylvania, citizens greeted them as celebrities, amazed that they had come so far. Helga and Clara collected the autographs of many notables along the way, including governors and mayors in Utah, Colorado, Iowa, Chicago, and Pennsylvania; populist General Jacob Coxey (1854-1951); and presidential candidate William McKinley (1843-1901). They also visited the wife of his opponent, William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925). Bryan himself was away campaigning. Clara sprained an ankle in Pennsylvania and Helga wrote to their sponsor requesting a few days extension of time so that Clara's ankle could heal.
Helga and Clara arrived in New York City on Wednesday, December 23, 1896. There they were shocked to learn that they would not receive the $10,000. Yes, they were a few days over the specified time limit, but they had successfully made the trip. The journey had expanded their own worlds and had certainly proven the great endurance of women. They had proven their own capabilities, achieving something even most men would never have tried. Yet they failed to save the farm.
Questions remain. It is possible that the sponsor had no money to offer them and never expected them to succeed, but it is difficult to understand why he or she did not provide them the money to get home. To make matters worse, Helga's written journals disappeared in New York, either misplaced or stolen.
Then Helga and Clara received tragic news from home. Bertha had died of diphtheria and the remaining children were quarantined. Ole and the children were coping with the tragedy alone. To most 1890s Americans, Helga's trip now seemed nothing short of reckless family abandonment and folly.
Now destitute in New York, two days before Christmas, Helga and Clara had to figure out how to get home. This time they would not walk. With the U.S. economy still in a slump, and wages for women so low they could not save any amount from what they earned, they visited both the city of Brooklyn and local charities for help, but were rejected. Clara then approached railroad titan Chauncey Depew (1834-1928) and Depew gave them rail passes to travel from New York to Minneapolis.
Upon arrival in Minneapolis, Helga and Clara met with reporters and Helga stated that she had arranged with her New York sponsor to publish a book based on their journey. Then they would receive the $10,000. The women stayed several days in Minneapolis and then headed home, most likely by rail. It was now the spring of 1897.
|Helga and Clara in Minneapolis in 1897 in|
a C. S. Ricker Studio portrait
Helga and Clara met a grieving family when they returned to Mica Creek. Johnny too had died of diphtheria. No one wanted to hear of their trip. To the family, the memory was bitter and the cost too high.
The expected eventually happened. On March 28, 1901, the Estby farm was sold at a sheriff's sale. But instead of this being the tragedy Helga had imagined, it became a new beginning for the family, who moved back to Spokane where Ole and son Arthur partnered in the construction business and did well. They soon built the family a two-story home. Clara graduated from business college and made a career in the financial world.
Telling the Story
Back in Spokane, Helga supported Washington's successful 1910 woman suffrage campaign and continued to dream of publishing a book about the trip. With the travel journals gone, sometime in the 1920s she began writing from memory.
Arthur Estby died when he was only 39, and his 8-year-old daughter, Thelma Estby (later Bahr), went to live with her grandmother Helga. Thelma remembered Helga as a kindly woman who understood the tragedy of losing a parent. According to Thelma, Helga often kept to herself in an attic room where she painted, did needlework, and wrote. Helga asked Thelma to take care of her story, although Thelma did not know what she meant. Upon Helga's death, one family member burned Helga's writing but another saved two news clippings of the trip from the burn barrel.
In 1984 eighth-grader Doug Bahr was encouraged by his family to enter the Washington State History Day Contest with his essay "Grandma Walked from Coast to Coast." One of the contest judges that year was author and scholar Linda Lawrence Hunt, who was inspired to research more. This led to her writing "A Victorian Odyssey," published in the Summer 1995 issue of Columbia Magazine. She then developed the material into the book Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America, published by Anchor Books in 2005. Folk singer and songwriter Linda Allen composed the song "Helga Estby," which she included in a CD of songs celebrating the 100th anniversary of Washington woman suffrage in 2010.
April 2011 saw the release of two young adult novels. The Year We Were Famous, intended for readers 12 and up, was written by Helga's great-granddaughter and retired Everett Public Library librarian Carole Estby Dagg and published by Clarion Books. Following a day later was a Waterbrook Press book, The Daughter's Walk, authored by Jane Kirkpatrick. All three books are well-researched and well-written. Dagg is following with a sequel that will cover Helga and Clara's year of 1897. It is noteworthy that the two novels use Clara as the main character.
Helga looks contented in portraits taken of her in her elder years (see top of blog). The journey had given her confidence and expanded her world. The trip was life-changing. Perhaps Clara suffered the most. Although she made a career for herself, she separated from the family, uniting with them only during the last years of her life. Their story will never be told in their own words, which is a great loss. Helga's perspective would have been a unique piece of travel writing, giving a priceless feminine perspective on the United States in 1896. Across the years, the story continues to intrigue.
Linda Lawrence Hunt, Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America (New York: Anchor Books, 2005); Linda Lawrence Hunt, "A Victorian Odyssey," Columbia, Summer 1995, pp. 33-40; Carole Estby Dagg, The Year We Were Famous (New York: Clarion Books, 2011); "Walk to New York: Mrs. H. Estby and Daughter Will Begin That Undertaking Today," Spokesman Review, May 5, 1896, p. 5; "Are Walking for Wages," The Walla Walla Union, May 17, 1896, p. 4; "On a Long Walk," Idaho Daily Statesman, June 5, 1896, p. 3; "Walking to Win $10,000," Des Moines Register, October 17, 1896, p. 2; "Globe Trotters: Two Women in that Role Reach Canton and Call on Major McKinley," The Evening Repository (Canton, Ohio), November 30, 1896, p. 1; "Came From Spokane Afoot," The New York Times, December 24, 1896, p. 9; "Panic of 1893," History.com website accessed May 25, 2011 (http://www.historycentral.com/Industrialage/Panic1893.html).
By Margaret Riddle, September 23, 2011
photos courtesy of Carol Etsby Dagg and Portch/Bahr fanily
Thursday, April 24, 2014
One hundred and forty-nine years ago, on April 27, 1865, the Sultana, a Civil War riverboat, exploded outside Memphis, TN. The death toll of the accident surpassed that of the Titanic, making the incident the greatest maritime disaster. However, due to the fact that President Lincoln had been shot a week before, and Lee had surrendered earlier in the month, the event received very little news coverage and became quite lost in American history. The cause of explosion is still in question, some historians claim it was a faulty boiler, some claim the Sultana was the victim of a coal torpedo.
The Sultana was licensed to carry less than 400 passengers, and reports claim she left New Orleans with a bulge in one of her boilers. The ship already had a large number of passengers, but while docked in Vicksburg where engineers put a patch on the bulge, over 2,000 (POW’s) Union Soldiers marched aboard. These men had been released from the nearby Confederate prison camps of Andersonville and Cahawba. The army had paid for prisoners passages north. A short time later, near Helena, AK the ship almost toppled when too many men crowded the side to have their picture taken. (Research states it was the above picture.)
The dreadful explosion that killed over 1,800 of the 2,400 passengers happened a short time later, in the wee hours of the morning, seven miles north of Memphis.
Memphis citizens searched the muddy waters for days finding survivors and then spent many more days attempting to identify recovered dead bodies. A rather swift army investigation claimed no fault in the over-crowded conditions. The survival stories were as amazing as the historic accident. Report accounts claim one man survived by stabbing the ship’s mascot, a 10-foot alligator, and floated atop the alligator’s cage for miles. Another man used a coffin as a row boat. Others found refuge in nearby trees or held on to one of the numerous livestock the ship had also been carrying.
A large number drowned, simply too weak and feeble from months of imprisonment. Others died from the explosion and/or were scalded to death from the steam. Bodies were found for months, and many others were never recovered.
The History Channel has aired a documentary on the Sultana, and there are societies and websites dedicated to her survivors. To this day, the cause of the explosion has never been verified or confirmed. Some claim it was a faulty boiler, some claim it was sabotage. Coal torpedoes were common wartime weapons. These were bombs made out of hollow iron casts that looked just like every other clump of coal used to heat the boilers, but, in fact, were pack full of gun powder. These torpedoes were also made out of wood for the wood burning ships, and used by both the North and the South to dismantle and sink riverboats during the war.
A death bed confession of a Confederate spy and saboteur was never taken seriously, although he knew things only the saboteur would know. Some historians suggest that is because the army had already investigated the accident and didn’t want to draw attention to all they’d wiped under the rug in order to claim they held no fault in the accident by overcrowding the ship. Furthermore, the confessing man had been arrested after the accident, but let go because the war was over and the ceasefire included no charges being brought against agents on either side.
I learned of the Sultana several years ago while vacationing in Memphis. A riverboat tour guide gave a chilling account of the accident, which sent me home to do months of research before creating the story, An April toRemember. Turning this tragic incident into a romance novel was a challenge, but I also found great pleasure in creating a happy-ever-after for two specific passengers.
Blurb: April Simonson hated men—all men. They were cruel, sinful beasts. Her disfigured face was proof. That is until she met Jerek Brinkley. Then, as the revered Sultana explodes, April falls into the dark, muddy waters of the Mississippi River terrified she’ll never see the light of day or the handsome riverboat gambler again.
Jerek Brinkley fought hell and high water to save the northern vixen who’d won his heart with her card tricks, only to fear Allan Pinkerton’s arrival in Memphis might reveal secrets he’s not ready for her to know.
Based on history’s greatest maritime disaster, An April to Remember, sprinkled with real facts and events, revives the Sultana, a Civil War riverboat whose death toll surpassed the Titanic’s, and offers a new twist on what might have happened that fateful night in 1865.
Reviews for An April to Remember have included:
WRDF Reviews— TOP READ: “A wonderful story by Ms Robinson, a must read for someone who loves a bit of everything, heartache, catastrophe, romance, and passion. I loved it immensely.”
Long and Short of it Reviews: “This story will touch your heart and make you weep with gratification that we have authors such as Robinson. This was a wonderful read and I wish it could go on forever. It’s a keeper for any bookshelf!”
Night Owl Reviews—TOP PICK: “Lauri Robinson did a beautiful job with this book for when you read her words you could almost hear the cries, death all around, and happiness of knowing a loved one survived. Truly this is one of those books that needs to be savored.”
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
The Sheepeater Indians of Yellowstone
Two summers ago, during my family’s annual camping trip in Yellowstone National Park, I was fortunate to attend a ranger talk about the local Indians of the area that played a large role in my Yellowstone Romance Series. The ranger’s talk was specifically about the Sheepeater Indians. Finding information on this tribe hasn’t been easy, and since I had just finished the Yellowstone book series, I was very eager to see if I “got it right.” I came away from the program fairly satisfied that I hadn’t really learned anything new about this hardy sub-tribe of Shoshone Indians that time and history seems to have forgotten. The only interesting fact I did learn was that the last small group of Sheepeaters was removed from Yellowstone in 1890, their way of life and customs untouched or influenced by white men.
The Sheepeater Indians, or Tukudika, which in their language means “eaters of meat”, a sub-group of the Shoshone, were the only native peoples to live in the Yellowstone region year round. Their primary source of food was the bighorn sheep that inhabited the high mountains of the park. They also lived on fish, nuts, berries, the root of the camas flower, bitterroot, and various other edible plants. Marmots (called whistle dogs, or whistle pigs) were considered a delicacy.
Often called Mountain Shoshone, they may have lived in the Yellowstone area for 10,000 years, although another version of their ancient history has them arriving less than 1,000 years ago. They were considered by other bands of Shoshone Indians as great medicine men, and highly spiritual, because they chose to live in mountainous areas often at 7500 feet or higher. These were areas the Shoshone believed were home to a higher order of spirits called Sky People.
The Sheep Eaters, though, gained an undeserved reputation, through written accounts by Lewis and Clark, and other explorers, as having been destitute, feeble-minded, and almost subhuman. Not all white men shared this view, and mountain man Osborne Russell wrote in his book, Journal of a Trapper, about their friendly nature and the fine quality of their hides.
Due to the remote and harsh areas where they lived, the Sheepeaters were not influenced by the arrival of whites. They didn’t have rifles, and no horses. They continued to travel on foot in the traditional way, utilizing dogs to help carry their supplies and in their hunts for bighorn sheep. They kept to the high remote areas, escaping the European influence more than other tribes. They remained deeply immersed in their landscape and ways, and no doubt the beauty and unspoiled wilderness of Yellowstone inspired their beliefs, worldview, and spirituality.
The Sheep Eater culture distinguishes itself from other tribes in various ways. They lived in small family groups in huts made from skins and branches (aspen and willow in summer, heavier materials in winter), called wickiups. Their hide tanning methods were of high quality and trade value. Their bows earned a near mythical reputation. They were made from the horns of Bighorn Sheep or elk antlers, which they heated at Yellowstone’s geysers and hot pools and then molded into hunting weapons. It was said that the force of their bows could drive an obsidian-tipped arrow clear through a buffalo.
“Like many other hunters and gatherers, the Sheep Eaters did not make a distinction between the natural and supernatural worlds. At the apex were the “Sky People,” below them were the “Ground People,” and still lower were the “Water People.” Physical phenomena were also hierarchically ordered, with the sun and lightning at the pinnacle and rattlesnakes occupying the bottom rung of the cosmos.” (from Mountain Spirit – The Sheepeater Indians of Yellowstone)
In the 1870’s, superintendent of Yellowstone, Philleus Norris, decided to eradicate all Indians from the park. The Sheepeaters were driven from their homelands, and taken to reservations at Wind River in Wyoming, and Fort Hall in Idaho. Several small groups did escape this eradication, however, and the last group still survived in the remote mountains of Yellowstone, living as their ancestors had for thousands of years, until 1890.
When I chose to include the Sheepeaters into my writing of my books in the Yellowstone Romance Series, I decided to use their spiritual beliefs as my vessel for the time travel elements in several of the books. The Sky People (although the Sheepeaters referred to the animals in the sky as “the sky people”, in my books I implied for them to be actual spiritual men) became the perfect source of the origin of the time travel device for the books.
Here is a short excerpt from Yellowstone Heart Song, Book 1 in the Yellowstone Romance Series:
Daniel nodded. He knew his mother had died in childbirth in the midst of a winter blizzard here in the mountains. His father had been unable to go for help from the nearby Tukudeka clan. How often had he heard his father blame himself over the years for his wife’s death, for taking her away from the safety of New Orleans and bringing her to the mountains?
“What I didn’t tell you before,” his father cleared his throat again, each word seemed to cause him pain to bring forth, “is that we had a visitor that night.”
“A visitor?” Daniel echoed.
“He was old. A Tukudeka elder. He got caught in the snowstorm and found the cabin. He was nearly frozen to death when he managed to pound on the cabin door.”
“Continue,” he said slowly, when his father paused again.
“I tended to both your mother and the old man throughout the night. She was getting worse, and he was starting to thaw out. That’s when he offered me the chance to save your life.”
“My life?” Daniel’s eyes narrowed.
“He handed me this.” His father reached into the pouch around his neck and produced a shriveled up, dried snakehead with eerily unnatural gleaming red eyes. Daniel stared at the object, then back at his father.
“He told me a story of how his grandfather received this snake from some ancient people who came from the sky.”
“The Tukudeka legends are full of stories of the Sky People,” he nodded.