Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ze End . . .of April's A to Z Blogging Challenge

Here we are, once again at the path of accomplishments behind us, farewells for today, and ahead, who knows what awaits?

This last month for April's A to Z Blogging Challenge, I've revisited the research underlying my current novel-in-progress, Rivers of Stone, now in the editing stage. In the process, I've made some discoveries, dug a little deeper into what affects my characters, and reaffirmed my nerdish love of books.

A few discoveries:

--Dr. John Rae, that Arctic explorer who discovered the last remains of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated party lost in the ice, actually wintered over at York Factory in 1845, the time of my book. Because he dared to report his findings, that Franklin's crew resorted to cannibalism in their desperate efforts to survive, he was ostracized and his exploration of Arctic areas unrecognized until very recently. I visited his tomb at St. Magnus Cathedral and saw his house when we visited the Orkney Islands.

Dr. John Rae's Tomb at St. Magnus Cathedral (Camp 2009)


--Country wives were protected somewhat, but their treatment still shocks me. Sometimes the men who 'married' these Metis and native women simply abandoned them and their children; other times, they arranged new husbands. Sometimes the men respected their wives for their entire marriage. I haven't quite figured out how to honor the history of these women. Sylvia Van Kirk's book, Many Tender Ties, added depth to this sad aspect of fur trading history.


--I could probably fall back into research to find again what I have forgotten, but that would delay the 'finishing' of this story for another year or two. And, after all, is it the history or the story of Catriona and Dougal that I want to tell?

Voltaire once said something like, "Sometimes the quest for perfection gets in the way of accomplishing what is good." He said it in French and more succinctly (the best is the enemy of the good). 

My commitment to write as well as possible for this A to Z challenge pulled me away from writing/editing Rivers of Stone. Now, May begins and I shall resume. Each of my books has taken about three years to write. This is the third year for Rivers of Stone, and my goal is to finish this year.

New A to Z people I've met this month and thoroughly enjoyed their posts:

Go forth, A to Z bloggers! May your writing and reading nourish each day!


Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for York Factory

Full circle. York Factory, the fur trading headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company's Northern Department is where my novel, Rivers of Stone, began.

Catriona, disguised as a boy, and Dougal, her husband, landed here when the annual ship arrived from Britain late in the summer of 1842. 

They met an interesting array of historical personages, including James Hargrave, the Chief Factor, and his wife, Letitia, a gossipy letter-writer some 15 years younger than her husband, who has given us pretty clear pictures of what life was like at that isolated fur trading post.

Situated in the middle of Cree country, York Factory was near enough to Hudson's Bay to be affected by every storm that rose over its waters. In the winter, Polar bears and wolves scampered on the ice, hunting for unsuspecting sea otters. In the summer, this main supply depot was pretty much surrounded by marshland. Workers sank to their ankles in mud and had to walk five miles to gather firewood. Everyone dreaded the black flies and mosquitoes.

Letitia Hargrave described York Factory as surrounded by ". . . a desolate waste of green swamp grass and small scrub as far as the eye could see" (McGoogan 52).

York Factory in 1853 (Wikipedia)
By the 1840s, York Factory was an fenced outpost of some 30 buildings built of wood, with the main depot and guest houses in the center. Along each side, a hospital, doctor's house, bakehouse, cooperage, library, various fur and provisions stores, and quarters for officers and servants. In the center, the Company flag flapped from a tall pine (Newman 50).  

But the lives of those who lived there year round were complicated by boundaries of class and race. In the winter, Letitia Hargrave might dine with the 'gentlemen' and officers, but through the summer, when the men ate outside, she dined alone. 

James Hargrave had a piano brought for his new wife; she was rare, a European wife with a servant from the Orkney Islands in a land of country wives. In the earlier years of the fur trade era, such wives, both Metis and tribal, were prized. The marriages were arranged by the father of the young woman and the husband to be. Property was exchanged (typically horses), and the husband promised to honor his wife all his life (Brown 76). But gradually, such marriages were seen as an impediment to promotion by ambitious clerks far from home. 

Letitia befriended such a country wife and wrote of Mrs. Gladman that she had been 'married' when she was 12 to a Mr. Stewart: ". . . She was dragged out of her mother's room and sent away with him & he beat & maltreated her til life was a burden" (MacInnes). After nine years, Mr. Stewart left her, and she 'went with' Mr. Gladman. Letitia continues,  ". . . from what she says, the ladies here have a custom of smothering their babies" (MacInnes).  I've read elsewhere that some tribal families hid their daughters and/or their children when the traders visited.

Tomorrow marks the last day of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge, with an entry for the letter Z. I wonder what zat will be?

Some references: Peter C. Newman, An Illustrated History of the Hudson's Bay CompanyJennifer S. H. Brown, Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country; and Morag MacInnes, "Letitia Hargrave in the Nor'Wast," Frontiers Magazine

Another helpful read is Michael Payne's The Most Respectable Place in the Territory: Everyday Life in Hudson's Bay Company Service, York Factory, 1788 to 1870 (found at a used book store!).









Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for the XY Company in the fur trade era

Originally I was going to write about the XY Company, that early fur trading company set up in 1797 to compete with the Montreal-based NorthWest Company.  
The Northwest Company labeled its fur packs with NW; the XY Company labeled its fur packs with X and Y, the letters that followed W. 

Those were rough and tumble days, and the XY Company did not last long. The fur traders from these two companies built competing posts, schemed, fought, and outbid each other with increasing amounts of rum and brandy. The rivalry out in the field for furs was matched by equally intense battles for profit within these two companies. The end of the short-lived XY Company came in 1804 when it merged with the NorthWest Company, but the newly merged NorthWest Company continued to fiercely compete with the Hudson's Bay Company. 

When the Hudson's Bay Company first established York Factory as the hub of its fur trading operations on the edge of Hudson's Bay itself in Upper Manitoba, those early officers and gentlemen with their apprentices and networks of fur traders were content to let the furs come to them for trading and then loading on the annual ship from England. Competition from the NorthWest Company changed that complacency.

This historical summary sounds pretty sedate, compared to the harsh realities of life in the fur trade, well matched by rowdy meetings by the managers to set policy. After the merger, by 1810, the NorthWest Company had nearly 2,000 employees and 1,000 canoes (Morrison 36). 

The Beaver Club in Montreal, where 'wintering partners' of the NorthWest Company met to set policy began with 5 toasts. Following each toast, the glasses were hurled into the fireplace. Morrison reports that a bill from one of the hotels shows "thirty-one members and guests consumed twenty-nine bottles of Madeira, nineteen bottles of port, fourteen bottles of porter, and twelve quarts of ale, plus a quantity of gin and brandy" (37). She quotes one attendee as saying, "By four o'clock in the morning . . . we could all give the war whoop as well as Mackenzie and McGillivray . . . " (37).

In 1821, another series of negotiations led the Hudson's Bay Company to merge with the NorthWest Company and acquire its posts west of the Rocky Mountains, significantly expanding its control of fur trading lands. The HBC, concerned about American and Russian expansion in the region, worked hard to solidify its position in the Pacific Northwest.

Perhaps the U.S. would not have stretched "from sea to shining sea" without this intense competition between the NorthWest Company and the Hudson's Bay Company. 


John McLoughlin
Source: Wikipedia
And John McLoughlin.

For McLoughlin was the powerful Chief Factor at HBC's Fort Vancouver from 1825 to 1846. He welcomed those American immigrants who arrived nearly broken by the harsh journey west. 

The Hudson's Bay Company rebuked McLoughlin again and again for being too generous with food and temporary lodging, but McLoughlin turned no one away. He did encourage them to settle south of the Columbia River, honoring the HBC's assertion that the boundary between the U.S. and Canada should be set at the Columbia River. Those immigrants settled along the Columbia and down into the Willamette Valley, along with retired voyageurs and McLoughlin himself, who later became an American citizen.


Oregon Country/Columbia District 1818-1846
Source: Wikipdia
Click map to see larger version
The disputed area shown in the map to the left takes up nearly 75% of the state of Washington, west and north of the Columbia River as it flows down from Canada to the sea.

Arguments about where the boundary between Canada and the U.S. should be were finally settled not by gun but by diplomacy. The Americans, faced with potentially two wars, one over its northern border, and the other over its annexation of Texas, and its southern border with Mexico, finally drew the line at the 54th parallel, well above the Columbia River the Canadian government wanted as its southern border. Neither country recognized the sovereign rights of tribal peoples beyond a token nod.

Hudson's Bay Company employee Richard Lane, in the very same fur brigade traveling west that included Canadian artist Paul Kane, carried the official boundary papers west in 1847 (Aha! Right in my story, Rivers of Stone). The rest, as they say, is history. 

Tomorrow takes me back to York Factory, nearly the last entry for April's A to Z Blogging Challenge. It's been an amazing month with many new blogs to discover. 

Interested in more about John McLoughlin? This is one of my favorite sources, rich with chatty excerpts from letters and journals of the time: Morrison, Dorothy Nafus. Outpost: John McLoughlin and the Far Northwest. Oregon Society Historical Press, 1999, 640 pp.






Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W = Weather

My grandfather used to say, "Watch the weather," as he scanned that line of hills between earth and sky. 

When DH and I first moved to the Inland Northwest (eastern Washington State), we walked out one fine sunny fall day to explore the neighborhood. At least the weather was fine until those storm clouds moved in. The rain poured down so hard, we were soaked in moments. The temperature plummeted. We began to shiver as we ran back towards home; the wind and rain continued to buffet us. At home, we were dry, warm, safe.

I've seen serious weather just twice. Once at Atlantic City, as a large thunder storm moved up the east coast, maybe morphing into something worse. And once somewhere in Minnesota, as we drove west through a tornado.

And the car lifted off the road
Minnesota, 2007 (Camp)
Sometimes I wonder what the weather was like for those fur traders who traveled across Canada or settled at one of the outlying posts. When Letitia Hargrave, wife of the Chief Factor, arrived at York Factory, she burst into tears. That may have been related to the three-month voyage from home, the hordes of bugs that greeted her at the end of the summer, or the isolation of the post itself. 

But when winter came, everyone bundled in layers and layers of clothing lined with furs. At first the buildings at York Factory had been built of thick walls of hand-quarried stone, but the winters were so cold, those stones cracked. Even the rum froze. I've camped out in the winter when our first act in the morning was to brush the snow off the water jugs. Now, if we can see our breath when we wake up, we head to motels.

But at York Factory, the average low is 20 degrees F, warming up to 28 degrees F by May. In 1846, the ice did not clear from Hudson's Bay until June. James Hargrave, Chief Factor then, described York Factory weather as "nine months of winter, varied by three of rain and mosquitoes" (McGoogan 52).

That's a long time to huddle close to the fire in fur-lined jackets, or to go hunting in the depth of winter for food. One 19th Century hunting trip at York Factory ended badly when an apprentice boy simply wandered off in the snow. In the spring, they found the boy's hat made of fox fur. Not even his bones remained.

So what do thoughts of weather have to do with writing? How do writers make the settings of their stories come alive without thinking about those times of we shivered through storms?  What does survival mean but a chance at redemption, another chance to make anew all that is good?

We're nearing the end of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. Tomorrow, the X factor for us all.

An excellent book that takes us back to York Factory in the 19th Century is Ken McGoogan's Fatal Passage: The Untold Story of John Rae, the Arctic Adventurer who Discovered the Fate of Franklin

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V = Voyageurs

The voyageurs. Those intrepid workers who rose before dawn to begin the day, often not stopping before 8 or 9 pm at night. These seasonally hired men traveled along the rivers and waterways of Canada by canoe and York boat. 

In the late summer, they carried mail, trade goods, and passengers from the annual ship from Europe south and west to isolated posts. In the spring, after ice melt, the voyageurs carried the all important furs east for shipment to Europe. They paddled both against the current and with it, depending on the season and the direction the rivers flowed. I imagine the voyageurs thought often of the weather in the early spring and late fall, when ice might clog or freeze the rivers.

These voyageurs had incredible stamina. Chosen for their sheer strength, they were short, often bow-legged from long hours in those canoes, and brawny from paddling those 14-20 hour days. They sang to set the rhythm of their paddles.

They also loved tobacco and marked their time on the river with breaks called "pipes." Even directions would be called out, for example, "4 pipes to Fort Carleton."

Most wore their hair long, tied back with head scarves that served as padding for towlines when they pulled heavily loaded boats through shallow waters. Portages around rapids often required the men carry the cargo in 90-pound packs. Two such packs were considered a standard load to carry. No wonder the men preferred to run the rapids.


Voyageur's violin, sash, and travel accordian
Glenbow Museum, Calgary (Camp 2015)
The voyageurs also wore incredibly bright red sashes, wound around their waists that served as pockets for knives as well as back support. I actually purchased one in my travels through Canada last summer. 

Independent and rowdy, quick to joke, drink, fight, and sing, these men loved to gamble -- on dog fights, canoe races, or how many packs a man could carry at one time. 

Peter C. Newman, in Caesars of the Wilderness, notes, ". . . they eagerly signed up for unimaginable toil that cracked their backs and ruptured their intestines but never broke their spirit" (26).

These voyageurs forged close relationships with many tribes throughout Canada, and learned how to survive in the wilderness. Marriages "in the style of the country" led to the Métis -- children born of Native women and French and British men who made their own mark on Canadian history.

I can't go back to the 1840s, but this painting by Francis Anne Hopkins shows how the voyageurs slept at night under their canoes, close by the river. Notice how they huddle under their blankets, the gear they brought, their paddles and pots.  


Frances Anne Hopkins, "Voyageurs at Dawn" (1871)
Source: Wikipedia
Many died along the river, nameless, their place of death marked with a white cross. Railroads began to replace the route of the voyageurs in 1880's. An era ended, but the stories of their courage remain.

The Descent of the Fraser River, 1808,
from a colour drawing by C. W. Jefferys
Source: Wikipedia
This is the last week of April's A to Z Blogging Challenge. Jump in to find out what others are writing. Tomorrow, the letter "W" -- which for me might be the weather, a formidable adversary for the fur traders, or more snippets from Paul Kane's Wanderings.

Monday, April 25, 2016

U = Uncertainty and Firewater

As I continue thinking about the fur trade era, I thought today's topic might be the Upper Fort Garry, that jumping off post to the west, located where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers converge. Paul Kane visited here on his way west in 1846.

Instead, I waffled. Perhaps 'uncertainty' would be a better starting point. 

At many points in traveling from York Factory to Fort Vancouver, the fur traders slept with uncertainty, especially as they traveled through Blackfoot Country and the Plains, where long-held hostilities between the Cree and the Blackfoot made night raids and outright fights possible. Not all Hudson Bay Company posts were secure. Paul Kane reports in his journal that their clothing was stolen in the night by such a raiding party, when few of the brigade had clothing to spare.

But then I found this snippet in researching a little more about the Blackfoot people, a topic that teases me since my grandmother once said I was certainly of the Blackfoot tribe. I was never sure what she meant.

According to Peter C. Newman's classic study Caesars of the Wilderness, the term 'firewater' came about when fur traders began to exchange rum for furs in the early 1800's. 

Of course, competition was intense between the Hudson's Bay Company and the Northwest Trading Company. I've read elsewhere that the Hudson's Bay Company took the higher ground, not wishing to sell alcohol to the natives. Perhaps. Newman suggests that American traders had large, military forts to protect them when the results of drinking led to a rampage. In Canada, the trading posts were small, understaffed, and militarily barely defensible. As the demand for alcohol increased, trading became more profitable because the ability of Indian traders to negotiate decreased. 

Back to the firewater. Newman reports that the Nor'Westers (the Americans) would mix 9 gallons of 132-proof Caribbean rum with 30 to 70 gallons of water, depending on the market. For the Cree, they used 3 to 4 parts water; for the Blackfeet, the traders used 7 to 8 parts water (110). Very quickly, natives learned to test the watered rum by spitting on a fire. If the fire flared up, the proof was good. If the rum had been watered down too much, the fire would go out. 

And that's how the term 'firewater' came about.

Alcohol was also an issue for the fur traders -- isolated posts, drinking as a reward, tots as rewards for hard work or holidays. Hmmmn. I have seen the devastating effects of alcohol during my growing up years, when uncertainty ruled each weekend. I can only imagine the 19th Century in Europe when clean water was routinely tainted. Those fur traders must have had a taste for alcohol.

See Peter C. Newman's Caesars of the Wilderness for a fascinating study of the fur trading era. Also, if you are interested in which term is preferred when referring to native peoples, see Dennis Gaffney's post, "American Indian or Native American."

Tomorrow, we followers of the Blogging A to Z Challenge will write something related to "V" in this last week. I don't know yet what I will write about . . . maybe the voyageurs.


Upper Fort Garry 1884
Source: Wikipedia




Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for Tinker

As I continue editing Rivers of Stone, I remember my grandfather's hands. He could fix anything. Watches. Cars. Tents. He invented a switch he could use from his chair that turned off the sound on the television, long before remotes were available. 

He hunted, fished, and hiked in the wilderness. He didn't sew. That was women's work. And he didn't sing. But he loved books and anything to do with the environment, which he was convinced we humans were ruining as fast as we could. He would have loved global warming as that would have proved his theories.

He would have fit right in with a fur brigade, for that tinkering was a survival skill. 

The ability to 'make do' probably was influenced by him growing up dirt-poor on a farm in Missouri (he called it 'Miz-rey'). He ran away from home when he was 16 to become a cowboy, out west.
Frank and Sigrid Henry
About 1920 in Montana

Then he met my grandmother. They married, and he became one of the first forest rangers right around World War I when the Army wouldn't accept him because one of his eyes was flawed.

He took me, a girl, hunting. I learned how to find my way in the woods, how to skin out a deer, and how to tinker, though I mostly tinker with words.

I thought today I'd write about voyageurs, but instead, I wrote about my Grandfather. He lived to be 100.

Have a good rest tomorrow. Next week we polish off the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. And next week, I will write about the voyageurs. How did your grandparents influence you?

Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for Snowshoes

If I were caught in a sudden blizzard deep in the woods and had a knife, I now know how to make snowshoes, thanks to research for my current story-in-progress.

Here's a little snippet from Rivers of Stone, featuring Mary Lane, the Metis wife of Richard Lane, leader of the fur brigade which brought Canadian artist Paul Kane over the Rockies in a late winter crossing.

     In the morning, Mrs. Lane called the three men without snowshoes together. “If you want snowshoes, I will show you. Gather five sticks that yet live. This long." Mary stretched her arms out to show three to four feet. "Bring any ropes you have. If you don't have rope, bring your blanket." 

   The men dispersed out under the trees, cursing again when they stumbled in the snow. Within the half hour, they returned and sat before her in a half circle.

   "Tie your sticks together at one end," Mary commanded. "As tightly as you can. Then, fan the sticks out like this." She spread her fingers wide. "Take three sticks a little larger than your hand and tie them crosswise to make a foot support. Tie them good, but not as tight as the end." 

     She took one of the half-made snowshoes and showed the men how to bend the wood to tie the other end. "Now, lash the completed snowshoe to your foot. This will carry you until we stop for the night." She nodded once, gathered the unused sticks, and put them in her pack.

   Behind her, Lane and Kane took down their night’s shelter, rolling the blankets into their packs.

   “Stand wider than normal,” directed Mary. “When you go uphill, kick your toe into the snow to make a kind of step. Lean a little on the uphill side. Follow the person in front of you. Step in his steps. Going downhill, lean a little backwards. If you fall, just lay backwards, and then roll over to stand up. You don’t want to get stuck in the snow. We can go now, Mr. Lane."

Note: Kane reports in his journal that a few of the men not familiar with snowshoes made slow going and that the pack horses often got stuck in three-foot-deep drifts of snow. He also notes the brigade took a one day stop to make these snowshoes. I also checked with someone in my family who said you should walk a little bowlegged when using snowshoes, like you would for riding a horse.

Moraine Lake, Banff, Rocky Mountains
Source: Wikipedia

Sources for making snowshoes:

These posts are part of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. I'm a little late in posting today as I accidentally cut my thumb. Luckily my thumb's only needed for the spacebar! Read what others are posting HERE.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

R is for Robert Rundle, Cat Lover

You wouldn't expect to meet a cat lover during the fur trading era.

I was reading about Paul Kane's trek across Canada in 1846, when I met Methodist minister, the Reverend Robert Rundle, who worked with the Cree. 

Rundle was the first Methodist minister to travel to the plains, encouraged by the Hudson's Bay Company in an attempt to counter the missionary efforts of traveling Catholic priests.  He joined Paul Kane's brigade at Fort Carlton as he was on his way home to Fort Edmonton.  
Reverend Robert Terrill Rundle
1811-1896 (Wikipedia)

Rundle traveled with a cat. He so loved this large hairy, orange cat that he trundled it about in a small case carried before him, rarely letting the case or the cat out of his sight. He was afraid the cat might be eaten.

Here's a snippet from my novel-in-progress, Rivers of Stone, featuring Reverend Rundle and his cat:

The next morning, smoke from cooking fires hung close to the stockade as Kane, Rowand and Reverend Rundell prepared to mount their skittish horses. 

The Cree pressed close for they all wanted to formally shake the hands of the travelers, especially Reverend Rundell.

Rundell had taken great care to tie a string, nearly 4 feet long, to the pommel of his saddle at one end and to his beloved cat at the other. Then, he tucked his cat into the large front pocket of his capot. “She’ll travel safe this way,” said Rundell.

As the crowd clustered close around Rundell’s horse, it began to pitch and plunge about. Suddenly, the cat leaped out, startling the horse and the Cree. The cat fell to the ground, but the string held true, and the cat scrabbled against the horse’s legs, causing it to leap about. 

Mr. Rundell could not keep his seat, and the horse flipped him over its head. The Cree screeched and yelled as the string broke, and the cat scampered to safety.

Kane bent over laughing, along with the rest of the brigade.

“Damn cat’s going to kill him,” said Rowand.

Sweat poured from Rundell’s face as he got up and rescued his cat. The cat’s body crouched tight against Rundell, and its ears twitched at the crowd. Rundell brought it over to Cat. “Would you take care of  my cat?” asked Reverend Rundle. “I fear Puss has had enough of horses.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll be happy to take charge of her. Poor thing.” Cat thought the cat looked fat enough to make a good meal. Ah well, at least it has a traveling case.


Only 7 days left in the April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge! 
I hope you are finding new bloggers to read.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for Quilts

I really enjoy quilting. It’s a pastime almost as obsessive as writing. I follow pretty much the same process for writing as I do for quilting, just using different terminology to design, select materials, assemble, and quilt – except I stand up now and then to move to the ironing board.

So I like to include a 19th Century quilt somewhere in my books.


Boxbed at Kirbuster Museum,
the Orkney Islands, Scotland (Camp 2004)
In Standing Stones, Granny Conner, who slept in a cupboard bed, had a small patchwork quilt casually in that boxbed on legs, for the doors on such beds can be closed off entirely, just like sleeping in a tiny closet.

In Years of Stone, one of my characters, actually a historical personage, Kezia Hayter, served as a matron on the Raja that carried women from England to Australia on a convict ship in 1841. 

Thanks to gifts of sewing materials, bags of scraps, needles and thread provided by the Elizabeth Fry and the Quakers, these women, while on a roughly three-month voyage on a sailing ship, prepared a quilt. Today, that quilt resides in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, where it’s brought out once a year. I haven’t seen it for myself. Perhaps one day. 

The Rajah Quilt, 1841
Source: National Gallery of Australia
Which brings me to the current work-in-progress, Rivers of Stone. I haven’t a quilt yet. 

Perhaps I could use a Hawaiian quilt, for I do have a very few minor Hawaiian characters, those adventuresome young men who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 19th Century. 

The historical time period matches. The missionaries went to the Big Island roughly in the 1820s. The missionary wives, wearing their up-to-the-neck dresses, brought their quilting with them. 

The result at first were pieced quilts, but research shows that by the 1870s, local traditions transformed quilting into something rather unique: Absolutely gorgeous and unique applique quilts that celebrate the flowers and plants of Hawaii. 

The Hawaiians adapted that European quilting to their own tradition of creating kapa out of bark that had been beaten and then felted. Generally, these applique quilts are not for everyday use, but are brought out on state occasions to celebrate a marriage or a birth or to mark a death. This example of a modern Hawaiian applique quilt features thousands of stitches -- by hand.

Halderbaun, Hattie. Mist of Kaala. 1950-1975.
 From Hawaiian Quilt Research Project, Hawaiian Quilt Research Project. 
Published in TheQuilt Index Accessed: 04/20/2016
Perhaps one of the European women who married those Chief Factors at the Hudson’s Bay Company posts, brought a quilt with her. Certainly, Letitia Hargrave brought a piano with her when she arrived in August of 1840. She could have brought a quilt.
Pieced Quilt, 1726
McCord Museum, Montreal

The earliest Canadian quilts were made in the 18th Century. The oldest I found is this beautiful pieced quilt made in 1726 and carefully preserved at the McCord Museum in Montreal.


Did any of the Native or Metis women have a tradition of quilting? Their beading appears everywhere in clothing and moccasins with geometric (pre-contact) and natural motifs (post-contact). 

Perseverance furthers. A Google search led me to discover the sumptuous Star Blanket quilts (also known as starblankets), beautifully made by the Plains Indians. 


These quilts, like the Hawaiian quilts, also have a sacred value. Highly prized today, the star blankets feature a central star in the shape of the 8-pointed morning star design of the Sioux, but the practice of making them began in the late 1800s, well past my time period of the 1840s. 


Star Blankets in a Row
from Nancy McClure, "Star Quilts: 'A Thing of Beauty'"
Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Have I decided which quilt to feature in Rivers of Stone? Not yet. But this is the joy of research. I'm wondering which quilting tradition you would choose? Have you ever taken time to marinate such a decision when writing a story?



Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for Passion

Passion is a curious issue for the Hudson's Bay Company around the 1840s. For while the fur traders and officers of the Company had been marrying native and Metis women for many decades, such liaisons, once advantages to securing trade and having a helpmate familiar with the demands of living in the wilderness, suddenly were viewed as barriers to a man's advancement.

Sylvia Van Kirk's classic Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870, shows pretty clearly how many native and Metis women were treated. A sharp contrast can be seen between two powerful men:  John McLoughlin and George Simpson.

Sir George Simpson
Source: Wikipedia
Sir George Simpson, a rather short man but all powerful Governor in Canada of the Hudson's Bay Company, had some 11 children by 7 different women, only one he married 'officially.' He referred to his native 'wives' as "bits of copper" (3), and instructed a friend to watch over his 'mistress', writing: "Pray keep an Eye on the commodity if she bring forth anything in proper time & of the right colour let them be taken care of . . . " 

Of Margaret Taylor, he wrote, "The commodity has been a great consolation to me" (Van Kirk 162-163). Margaret bore a second son in August, 1829, but in February 1830, Simpson at age 43, married his European cousin, Frances, age 18 (Van Kirk 185-187). 

The darker side of such passion, with some native and Metis women being abandoned, set examples for the next generations. For these women were at risk for unwanted, arranged marriages and rape. I'm not surprised that the children were at times hidden from their European fathers.

John McLoughlin
Source: Wikipedia
John McLoughlin, a tall, intimidating man, had been already criticized by Simpson for being too generous in helping US immigrants when they arrived at the strategically placed Fort Vancouver. McLoughlin married Marguerite Wadin McKay à la façon du pays (in the style of the country), when she had been abandoned by a Northwest Company officer in 1810 (Van Kirk, 121).  

But when Reverend Herbert Beaver came to Fort Vancouver in 1836, he sharply criticized such marriages, considering Marguerite a "kept mistress" and demanded the McLoughlins remarry within the Church of England. Instead, they chose to marry in a civil union. McLoughlin took a cane to the minister when his shocking insults did not cease (Van Kirk,155-157).

A writer's note: Sometimes my readers ask me why my stories don't always end with happily-ever-after. Real life shows that sometimes not even happy-for-now is possible. 

For further reading:

(1) Sylvia Van Kirk's study, Many Tender Ties, is a must read for understanding the scope and depth of how women were treated. Her frequent quotes from letters and journals of the time reveal the intense debate between those who sharply attacked country marriages and those  men and women who married and honored their vows.

(2) A fascinating summary of Hudson Bay Company treatment can be found at Women of the Fur Trade 1774-1821, that reports that between 1740-1760, marriage was prohibited because the Company feared the expense. The result? Officers often took many wives, sometimes as many as 5 or 6, perhaps because they were in for a penny, in for a pound. Why not?

(3) Brian Richardson's "The Quality of Friendship: Andrew McDermot and George Simpson" an article on Manitoba's History site) shows the complexity of the relationships between a fur trader and the all-powerful Governor of HBC.

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for One-Pound-One

If I were traveling by canoe or York boat along the Saskatchewan River to Fort Edmonton in the 1840s, I would have been impressed by Rowand's Folly, a three-story house built for Chief Factor John Rowand. 

John Rowand (1787-1854), originally from Montreal, began working in the fur trade when he was 16 as an apprentice clerk. His passions? Hunting bison and riding horses. When he was 23, Rowand had a disastrous fall from a horse, resulting in a broken leg. He was rescued by a young Metis woman, Louise Umfreville. From that point, he walked with a limp, earning the nickname, "One-Pound-One."

Rowand contracted a 'country marriage' with Louise and was gifted a herd of horses as a dowry -- which added to his prestige among the Plains Indians. John and Louise remained together until her death in 1849.  He called Louise " . . . my old friend, the mother of all my children . . ." They had at least five children. 

John Rowand
Dictionary of Canadian Biography
John Rowand was a short, rather large man with an explosive temper, and was considered a strict taskmaster. A visiting priest tried to convince Rowand that one of his workers was sick. Rowand replied, "Any man who is not dead after three days sickness is not sick at all." It's no surprise that he died of a heart attack when he intervened in a fight between boat builders and voyageurs.  

One challenge in writing historical fiction that involves what Ken Follett calls historical personages is this: How do I capture the sense of this man, without knowing him?  

In my current work-in-progress, Rivers of Stone, John Rowand is a minor character as Paul Kane and Cat stop off for a few days at Fort Vancouver on their journey west. 

Here's a snippet as Kane and Cat attend a formal dance at Rowand's Folly, late in 1847:

   One of the voyageurs stumbled against Rowand's daughter, Marguerite, who was dressed in yellow silk trimmed with fur. Rowand shoved the man to the floor, nearly at Cat's feet. "You blackguard! Think you to despoil my precious daughter?"

   The music stopped. All eyes turned to Rowand.

   "There's no harm done, sir," called Kane.

   "Get that man out of here," hissed Rowand. "He needs a whipping."

   With a courtly bow, Kane approached Margaret Rowand and invited her to dance. He offered his hand and led her ceremoniously on the floor, somewhat dwarfed by her imposing size, for she mirrored her father in bulk. Yet no one laughed. Instead, they applauded the couple's graceful sway to the music. Cat sighed. When will I wear such a dress? She snorted. As if I ever did.

   She made her way out onto the open parade ground, leaving the noise of the party behind her. Above, a full moon appeared encircled with white. Cat felt as if she were in a small city, yet she knew outside the fort's palisade, they would face near a thousand miles of wilderness before they reached Fort Vancouver. She rubbed her face with her hands. One day at a time. Bend, don't break.

Rowand's Folly, Residence of Chief Factor at Fort Edmonton
Source (Wikipedia)
Click to see larger image.
This month, inspired by the April A to Z Blogging Challenge, I'm writing about the research for Rivers of Stone as I finish up final edits. Check out what others are writing HERE.  Only 11 letters to go!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for Naming those Characters

I have a few favorite strategies for coming up with names for my characters when the first few efforts don't sound quite right. 

Since we're halfway through April's A to Z Blogging Challenge, I'm changing pace just for today and hoping some of these will help you.

1. Use the first names that appeal to you. This is rather a short cut and may mean all your characters will wind up being called Amelia. I have to watch out for rhyming names. Sandy, Randy, Andy just don't play nicely together. But you may find unintended consequences. For example, the heroine of Rivers of Stone is named Catriona Brody, a good Scottish name, with Brody being fairly common in the Orkney Islands where she was born. But her nickname, Cat, also was slang for prostitute back in the 1840s.

2. Search baby names. This is kind of fun, especially if you are writing historical fiction, because you can also search for popular names by century or specific decade, as in "19th Century popular baby names." One site, the CT State Library also includes nicknames. One that caught my eye was 'Nabby' for Abigail.

3. Browse through genealogical sites, again useful for historical fiction, but these are real people who once lived, so sometimes I feel that using some of these names is too exploitive. But we could always mix and match. For Rivers of Stone, I needed names of voyageurs. Most useful? General searches on Google about the fur trade and skimming the indices of my research books. Family Tree Magazine lists 25 top sites for family history, a potential gold mine for names of people and places.

4. Look at street names when you're driving around. This is my personal favorite because I've been able to name hotels, characters, and towns from these very anonymous street signs. Even my quilting group contributed its name to my fictional Waterford Hotel.

Speaking of quilts, I don't quite have a quilt yet in Rivers of Stone, but I'm still looking. This site on Rocky Mountain Quilts looks interesting. Sadly, the exquisite Hawaiian quilts did not truly emerge until the 1870s, a little past my story's time frame. 

Gore Vidal once said, “Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps 20 players. … I have 10 or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.”
So, how do you come up with the names used in your stories?

Image found on Google
Widely used but not attributed.

Friday, April 15, 2016

M is for Mount St. Helens

When I first began writing Rivers of Stone, I was daydreaming about the connections between Hawaii and the Northwest Territory in the 1840s. We traveled along the Columbia River, discovered petroglyphs overlooking the river, and walked our feet off.


At this early point, I kept asking what did Hawaii and the Northwest Territory have in common? The answer -- volcanoes. Lava. 
USGS Photo of Mount St. Helens' Eruption
Source: Wikipedia

Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, at 8:30 in the morning, just a few years before we moved to Oregon.

We visited Mount St. Helens on one of those memorable family vacations. Aunt Yetta hid under the blanket as we drove through the newly opened, one-way gravel roads. 

We stopped at overlooks, in awe at the sweep of the damage, the destruction and loss of lives. 

At the visitor's center, I spotted a small dark painting of something unexpected -- Paul Kane had captured a night eruption of Mount St. Helens when he traveled by canoe along the Columbia in the spring of 1847. 


Paul Kane, "Mount St. Helens Erupting at Night"
March 1847 (source: Wikipedia)
Kane's journals reveal that the volcano was not active when he stopped to sketch the volcano from a distance of about 30 miles, but as he drew the mountain, a great burst of white smoke blew out from the left side. Kane learned the volcano had exploded violently three years previously. Despite offerings of bribes, none of the Indians accompanying Kane would explore the mountain. 

I was fascinated by Paul Kane. Who was he? How did he get to the Northwest? How did people react to that eruption? And so the research began, and the title to my third book in the McDonnell series came along. Rivers of Stone

If you write, have natural catastropes influenced your stories?

Check out what others have written for the April A to Z Blogging Challenge HERE.



Thursday, April 14, 2016

L is for Lane, Mary and Richard, and that twisting research lane we follow.

When Paul Kane traveled west to Fort Vancouver, the leader of the brigade was an Englishman named Richard Lane. Lane had been entrusted with not only the documents resolving the 1846 border dispute between Canada and the U.S., but also the infamous otter furs, an annual gift to the Russians to ensure trade.

Lane was relatively new to the Hudson's Bay Company, arriving at York Factory in June, 1838, and transferring down to Red River by September where he stayed as an accountant until 1845, some 7 years.  Sir George Simpson sent him next to Fort Vancouver, promising Lane he could return to Red River in 1846. Why?

These are the facts. But I'm having a harder time finding out the story behind these surface facts.

Lane did return to Red River in 1846 to marry Mary (Marie) McDermot, daughter of prominent trader Andrew McDermot and his wife Sara McNab, a Métis with whom he had 17 children.

Annie McDermot
Source: Destination Winnipeg
Click for larger view.
Mary, then 30, and Richard (also 30), then joined Kane's party to travel over the Rocky Mountains. They must have known each other in those years Richard Lane spent in Red River. Kane admired Mary's skill with snowshoes as they traveled over the Rocky Mountains, but, as far as I know, he did not paint her.

I did find some lovely stuff about their wedding for Mary's mother Sara loved to dance. Métis weddings could last several days of feasting and dancing. Paul Kane should have painted this (I'm imagining a Peter Bruegel type scene).

I did find a photograph of Annie McDermot (b. 1830), Mary's sister, who may give a sense of what Mary looked like as a young woman. 

Portrait of a Half-breed Cree Girl
Source: Kane's Wanderings of a Young Artist
Click for larger view.
Another side issue is how Europeans romanticized and yet exploited the Métis and native women they met as seen in this painting by Paul Kane of a young Metis woman he met at Fort Edmonton and later painted. 

Cunnewa-bum (whose name means 'She That Looks at Stars') holds a fan. Her innocent gaze, some critics say, suggests flirtation, but I don't see that, but her name is lost when retitled as "Portrait of a Half-breed Cree Girl" in Paul Kane's Wanderings of a Young Artist.

In my story, Rivers of Stone, would Paul Kane have recognized Catriona as a woman in the grubby boy who traveled with him, given his romantic vision of women?

Richard Lane's story ends sadly with alcoholism and suicide some 30 years after the death of Mary in 1851.

But in the 1840s, and possibly before, the Hudson's Bay Company echelon viewed marriages between Europeans and Métis or native women (in the style of the country) as impediments to future promotions. Some men put aside their country wives. John Hargrave admonished a colleague to wait, as he had done, and not undertake such a marriage. And some men (including Sir George Simpson) said nasty things about the women they loved and left behind in short-term liaisons. When those precious European wives arrived, they often lived in isolation, unwilling to include the native and Metis wives in their company. 

After probably two many hours of reading and research this morning, I found a sumptuous new book on Paul Kane by Arlene Gehmacher, Paul Kane: His Life and Works (available as a free PDF download).

Now, back to work on revising and editing Rivers of Stone. Tomorrow's entry for that April A to Z Blogging Challenge will be "M" for Mount St Helens. Now what would a volcanic eruption have to do with Rivers of Stone?

Check out what others have posted for A to Z HERE.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

K is for Kane -- Paul Kane

Just how did I wind up including Canadian artist Paul Kane in my current historical novel, Rivers of Stone

In the early days of plotting a novel, ideas swirl around, and it's hard to tell who the heroine is and what the major conflicts will be, I had a sweet, young woman disguising herself as a boy to travel with her husband to the wilds of Canada. When they arrive at York Factory in Upper Manitoba, both are put to work, but Dougal is sent immediately to Fort Vancouver with the fur brigade express, while Catriona (Cat, for now, and still in disguise), is put to work at the trading post. 

Paul Kane was born in Ireland in 1810, but his parents moved to Toronto around 1822. He discovered his interest in painting early and patched together a living painting signs, furniture, and portraits. Finally, he was able to cover the costs of a trip to Europe to study the great masters. Unable to afford actual classes, Kane did what many artists do today; he copied originals. While in London, Kane ran into George Catlin, that famous American painter of Indians. Enamored of Catlin's tales of the West and his paintings, Kane decided this would be his driving ambition for the aboriginal peoples of Canada. 

When he returned to Canada, Kane met John Ballenden who then recommended Kane to Sir George Simpson, the head of the Hudson's Bay Company. 

Simpson commissioned a few paintings for his private collection and offered Kane carte blanche to travel to Fort Vancouver. Kane very nearly missed the first leg of the journey when the boat left early, but somehow, he caught up. The rest is history, a slew of gorgeous paintings that capture native life on the Plains and in the wild upcountry of Rupert's Land. 

Photograph of Paul Kane
about 1850 (Wikipedia)
Of course, historically speaking, Kane did not begin this journey until late 1846, in fact, a little late to be making that Rocky Mountain crossing. And there's my heroine, abandoned at York Factory in the fall of 1842.  How did she survive until 1846? Here's where plot twists begin. My only quibble is that I wanted Kane to be addicted to laudanum, but I can't quite bring myself to do that to a historical personage!

Paul Kane's Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America tracks his journey with much detail, organized by date, a fascinating read. He was quick to give a hand to his fellow travelers and equally slow to leave a spot he wished to sketch. Perhaps he needed an apprentice helper along the way, someone to organize and carry his art supplies.

Paul Kane's self-portrait,  
about 1845 (Wikipedia)
Compare the photograph of Paul Kane above with this self-portrait, painted sometime in 1845, rather closer to that time at the age of 36, he began his journey west.

You can read more in Diane Eaton and Sheila Urbanek's beautifully illustrated book, Paul Kane's Great Nor-West.

One of the great joys of writing historical fiction is the invitation to dive into the research of another time and somehow reconstruct the 'reality' of what it once was like. If you write, what role does research play for you?

Check out what others are posting for the April A to Z Blogging Challenge HERE.