Sunday, March 1, 2015

CHIEF BLACK KETTLE, MEET GEORGE ARMSTRONG CUSTER by Steven W. Kohlhagen


     

If there is a more tragic figure in the 19th Century West than the great Cheyenne Peace Chief Black Kettle, I have yet to find him.
In my earlier blogs, I related how John Chivington and the Colorado Volunteers massacred the Peace Chief's Sand Creek village in November, 1864. Killing over a hundred, mostly women, children, and old men not out on the hunt as they awoke at dawn. Black Kettle's wife, Medicine Woman, somehow survived nine bullet wounds. This despite the fact that Black Kettle had traveled to Denver to seek peace and flew a giant American flag and a great white flag given to him at that peace conference. And that he had moved his village to where he was instructed to keep the peace.


Undaunted, Black Kettle convinced his people to continue seeking peace. He moved his village over the ensuing four years to areas ordered by Indian agents and the Army. November 1868 found them in a village in Indian Territory in Oklahoma roughly 300 miles southeast of the horror that had been Sand Creek.
His village of 50 lodges and approximately 250 Cheyenne was the western-most of a series of five villages of around 6,000 Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa-Apache running for ten to fifteen miles along the Washita River---or, as the Cheyenne called it, the Lodgepole River.
To be fair, whereas many of the Indians had been seeking peace, the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers and many of the young braves who sneaked out of peaceful villages continued to attack the settlers in Kansas and Colorado. General Phil Sheridan was ordered to bring the Indians in and to stop the attacks on the settlers once and for all.
On September 23, 1868 Sheridan reinstated Colonel George Armstrong Custer to active duty and ordered him back to the West to lead one of the three columns against the Indians. Custer had been court-martialed the year before for abandoning his Seventh Cavalry command in the culmination of what at best can be viewed as a failed first command against the Plains Indians.


The characteristically eager Civil War hero kissed his wife, Lilly, good bye, jumped on the first west bound train, and reported to Sheridan one week later at Fort Hays. He rejoined his Seventh Cavalry five days later, and then on November 12, he led them, some 800 strong, south for the march to find the Indians. He drove the Seventh and all its wagons and supplies one hundred miles in six days in the bitter Kansas winter to set up a supply camp.
The Indians knew in general that the Army was coming, but were not aware of any specific plans. Many Kiowas and Comanches had moved their villages to Fort Cobb to be sure that their peaceful intentions were clear. Black Kettle decided to also travel to Fort Cobb to ensure that his peaceful intentions were known to the Indian Agency and the Army. He and several other chiefs rode a hundred miles to meet with the Fort Cobb authorities specifically to ask them if they should move their villages to Fort Cobb. On November 20, they were told "no," they must make their peace with Sheridan. The soldiers told them that moving to Fort Cobb risked the safety of the Indians already there if Sheridan followed and attacked them. Black Kettle's repeated claims of peaceful intent and requests for guidance were denied. He was told to go find Sheridan and make his peace.
Black Kettle's small band rode the hundred miles in the snow back to the Washita, arriving there on November 26th.
Custer's Seventh Cavalry left the supply camp on November 23rd and  marched fifteen miles south in a blinding snow storm. They then marched through feet of snow and bitter cold another forty-five miles in the next two days. At dawn on the 26th they moved out and shortly ran across tracks of a hundred and fifty braves returning from hunting or raiding.
Custer, who had split his command, both columns riding all day through the snow, reunited them at 9:00 pm---at about the time Black Kettle was finishing his council with his Cheyenne village a few miles south. Black Kettle's Cheyenne had decided that, in the morning, they would move their village southwest, away from all the other Indian villages.
In total darkness, as the Indians slept in their tipis, Custer and his scouts crawled on all fours through the snow to look into the Washita valley below. Custer saw and heard nothing. Then what looked like a herd of deer below. Then he heard a dog bark. Then a lone baby cry.
Custer had found his Indians.
He and Black Kettle would meet a few hours later, at dawn on November 27, 1868.
Custer, the Civil War hero and failed Indian fighter, now, characteristically, refused to wait for any reconnaissance. He split his forces into four columns, ordered the taking of horses and women prisoners, and a dawn attack.
At dawn, some of the Indian dogs began barking, and an Indian boy shot his rifle into the surrounding woods. From four directions the Seventh Cavalry charged the sleeping Indians, the band's attempt to play Garryowen thwarted, as their lips froze to their instruments.
By midafternoon, Black Kettle and Medicine Woman, and somewhere between forty and more than a hundred of their village lay dead in the snow. Custer burned the tipis and slaughtered seven hundred of their horses in front of both the fifty-three captured women and children and the hundreds of warriors watching from the hills above. The Seventh had a handful of wounded and one dead in the village, but all of their overcoats had been stolen by the Indians and, unbeknownst to Custer, twenty of his "Grey Company" were being overwhelmed and butchered a few miles to the south.
The growing hundreds of warriors watching from above was evidence of the much larger set of neighboring villages. Whereas Custer had outnumbered Black Kettle 5:1, he now found himself in the reverse situation in the very same village. However, when the Seventh, encircling their captive women, children, and ponies, marched toward, rather than away, from them, the watching warriors retreated to their villages.
Despite the lack of surveillance, proven cavalry tactics, surprise, and "Custer Luck" had, as it always had before for Custer, won the day. He drove the Seventh and his captives back to the supply camp in the freezing snow.
Black Kettle's luck however, and his quest as the greatest of the Cheyenne Peace Chiefs, had run out on the snow-covered banks of the Lodgepole River.

The Sand Creek Battle plays a role in my historical fiction novel, Where They Bury You (Sunstone Press). Both Custer and the Washita Battle play prominent roles in the forthcoming sequel, Chief of Thieves (June 15, Sunstone Press).

www.StevenWKohlhagen.com
http://www.amazon.com/Steven-W.-Kohlhagen/e/B00E5LZ0B4/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
https://www.facebook.com/SteveKohlhagenAuthor
Twitter: @StevenKohlhagen
stevekohlhagen@comcast.net

“Where They Bury You” can be purchased at http://www.amazon.com/Where-They-Bury-You-Novel/dp/0865349398/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1389914377
     

Saturday, February 28, 2015

New Mexico’s Rio Grande Gorge Bridge by Kaye Spencer


Taos, New Mexico is one of my favorite places to visit. ('X' marks the Taos-spot on the map.) From where I live in the southeastern corner of Colorado, it’s just a long day trip, so I’m fortunate to be able to go there every few years. The history of the area draws me. With each visit, I make sure to find a new and different place to see.

 www.infoplease.com/atlas/state/newmexico.html
At any given time of the year in Taos, you’ll find “artsy” activities going on around town, which are always entertaining experiences. During the summer and early autumn, especially in the early morning, the skyline will be dotted with hot air balloons in flight.

Taos of the 1880s is one of the settings in my western historical romance (Gunslingers & Ghostriders – currently out-of-print for 2nd edition revision). A block from the Taos Plaza is an old church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, which I will talk about in a future blog.


My most recent trip to Taos was on October 1, 2014. After my usual drive around the historic downtown area, my destination was the Rio Grande Gorge, which is northwest of town about 12 miles. Having never been there nor having researched anything about the gorge, it was quite a surprise to one minute be driving over nondescript, flat prairie with the San Juan Mountain range off to the northwest and the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range on the east and the next minute to come upon a bridge out in the middle of nowhere. Really. Nowhere.

Rio Grande Gorge, Taos, NM - flat prairie view

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge - south side view from rest area
…the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is the second highest bridge on the U.S. Highway System. The bridge is a three-span steel continuous-deck-truss structure with a concrete-filled steel-grid deck. It was called the "bridge to nowhere" while it was being built because the funding did not exist to continue the road on the other side.

At 650 feet (200 m) above the Rio Grande, it is the fifth highest bridge in the United States. The span is 1,280 feet; two 300-foot-long approach spans with a 600-foot-long main center span. The bridge was dedicated on September 10, 1965 and is a part of U.S. Route 64, a major east-west road.


In 1966 the American Institute of Steel Construction awarded the bridge "Most Beautiful Steel Bridge" in the "Long Span" category. The bridge has appeared in several films, including Natural Born Killers, Twins, She's Having a Baby, Wild Hogs, and Terminator Salvation.

http://taos.org/art/historic-landmarks?/item/2/Rio-Grande-Gorge-Bridge

 
Kaye Spencer fall 2014

There is raised concrete walking path along both sides of the bridge. A four-foot-high steel railing keeps the observer from toppling over the edge, but if you have vertigo, a dislike of looking down from a high vantage point, or you don’t particularly care for feeling the bridge move under your feet from the traffic (especially trucks) crossing the bridge, you won’t be a happy camper here. There are "look-out points" on both sides that allow you to step farther out over the edge of nothingness. From these places, you get a good view of the gorge floor. Even without binoculars or a zoom lens on your camera, you can see the white water rapids. Apparently over the years, these lookout stations have been the jump off point for suicides.


Rio Grande Gorge - rapids


On the west end of the bridge you'll find a dirt parking area and a plethora of roadside vendors, who have touristy wares to sell. A state park rest area, with additional parking, is a short walk up a slight slope. In March 2013, President Obama designated 242,455 acres, which includes the Rio Grande Gorge as the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.

Geologically…

  • The Rio Grande Gorge is a “rift valley”, which is a separation in the earth’s crust due to fault activity some 29 million years ago.
  • The valley appeared before the river, which is not typical as rivers tend to create valleys, canyons, gorges, and similar geologic features.
  • The gorge has many ancient petroglyphs along its walls.
  • There are hidden hot springs and ancient ruins along the river.
  • The river and immediate surrounding area offers camping, fishing (brown and rainbow trout and northern pike), boating, and rafting opportunities (Class II to Class V white water rapids).
  • The gorge is approximately 50 miles long running northwest to southeast of Taos.
Rio Grande Gorge from the bridge looking southerly

Rio Grande Gorge from the bridge looking northerly


For more information about the Rio Grand Gorge and the bridge:
http://www.discovernewmexico.com/articles/rio_grande_gorge_geology/index.htm

Having had more than my fill of the bridge trembling under my feet, I wandered away from the highway and walked along the canyon rim as far as the safety fence allowed. As the highway noises faded, and I took in the sight of the vast, wide-open scenery, I imagined standing here a hundred and fifty years ago. I thought of cowboys searching for cattle and wild horses or outlaws hiding from the law. From the petroglyphs and ancient ruins that tell their tales 650 feet below, it wasn't difficult to imagine Native Americans engaged in spiritual prayer and ritual in this hidden sanctuary. I thought of the animals that sought shelter, food and water, and protection from predators down in the bottom of the gorge.

My husband tells stories of a favorite fishing spot in the southern end of the gorge. He also says there are places that have a reverence about them—places where ancient memories still linger. Maybe it was the coming dusk, and maybe it was just my writer's imagination, but there was a mystical feel in the air as I stood there on the canyon's rim watching the shadows lengthen and obliterate all traces of the gorge. Perhaps Mother Nature was drawing the blanket of serenity over the secrets that lay between the canyon's walls.



Until next time,

Kaye



Note: Photographs are Kaye’s – permission granted to use and redistribute

Friday, February 27, 2015

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO... -- Meg Mims


Last weekend, the Oscars were awarded to films, directors, actors, writers, musicians, etc., nominated earlier this year. Fashion is huge, but so are the winners and losers. And let's face it -- it's an annual ritual that many love.


Usually, when that envelope is opened, the film or actor has not starred in a "genre" style flick. Dramas, epic blockbusters, war films or biopics have earned the most statuettes for Best Picture. Romance and musicals have fared so-so, depending on the era and Hollywood's mood. Despite the popularity of the other types of films - mystery/crime, fantasy, science fiction, horror, adventure, and especially westerns with American audiences (proof in the pocketbook), the Academy often withholds their votes.


Sorry, but it's true. You'd think, given the number of westerns that Hollywood has churned out since its earliest days, that there'd be a TON of golden statuettes lined up along the trail. Not hardly, pardner. Oh, don't get me wrong. There's been PLENTY of nominations - 129 westerns, in fact. Check out the list.

BUT only three, count 'em, THREE, won a Best Picture Oscar. Can you name them? Yes, the answer is below, but try to guess. I'll give ya the first one -- 1930's Cimarron, a "pre-code western", whatever that means, based on the Edna Ferber novel.


Start guessing! My first try, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and one of my favorite films (okay, it might have played fast and loose with history, but it sure was fun!), didn't fare so well.


It earned plenty of nominations (and as I can attest, it's an HONOR to be nominated!), but only won the Best Original Screenplay (William Goldman, who also wrote The Princess Bride), Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Song. What film won Best Picture that year? Midnight Cowboy. Hmph. Controversy claimed the big prize.

My second guess, the 1956 film The Searchers, based on the book by Alan LeMay, received ZIP. Nada. Nothing! No nod to John Wayne, director John Ford, not a even a Cinematography nomination! That's criminal!


But it has withstood the test of time and is considered a masterpiece, plus one of the most influential films - inspiring David Lean in making Lawrence of Arabia and probably many other sweeping epics. So there.


How about Little Big Man, with Dustin Hoffman? Based on the book by Thomas Berger, by the way, but only Chief Dan George received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Hm. Okay, maybe it was "revisionist" history, but still.


Let's try another guess - one of my favorites, True Grit, based on the Charles Portis novel. Yes, John Wayne won a Best Actor Oscar in 1970 for portraying Rooster Cogburn (he deserved it, even though some people believed it to be a 'sympathy vote'). In fact, after accepting the golden statue, he said, "If I'd known that, I'd have put that patch on 35 years earlier." Ha!


Okay, skip a few decades. How about 1990's Dances With Wolves, based on the Michael Blake book? Kevin Costner, a Hollywood favorite. Come on! It had to win something out of TWELVE nominations. And it did pretty well - seven out of twelve. Best Picture. Best Director for KC. Best Adapted Screenplay for author Blake. Best Cinematography. Best Sound. Best Film Editing. Best Original Score. This was the HIGHLIGHT of the western Oscars! Surely it meant Hollywood was falling back in love with the genre? Er...


Two years later, Clint Eastwood claimed this 1992 film as his last western. Oh boy, talk about predicting the death of the genre. So how did Unforgiven fare? I mean, he's Clint Eastwood! CLINT EASTWOOD, best known for riding a horse, for heaven's sake. The film received NINE Oscar nominations, pretty decent, but claimed not even HALF that number. Hm. It did win four - Best Picture and Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Film Editing. Sigh.


Dare I mention this 2005 western film, which earned eight nominations and won three Oscars, for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay (from the short story by Annie Proulx), and Best Original Score? Sure spurred controversy, so maybe that's why... Let's see how did the Coen Brothers remake of Charles Portis's True Grit fare six years later in the 2011 Academy Awards.


The film received TEN, count 'em, TEN nominations. Lost every time. Hmph. Does this mean Hollywood has given up on western films? Well, Christoph Waltz received a Best Supporting Actor for Django Unchained in 2012. But when it comes to Best Picture? Three. Cimarron (1956). Dances With Wolves (1990). Unforgiven (1992). Sigh. Only three Best Picture Oscars. We'll see if Quentin Tarantino can pull off any nominations next January for The Hateful Eight.


Let's hope Best Picture #4 for a western is coming soon.


Mystery author Meg Mims lives in Southeastern Michigan with her husband and a 'Make My Day' Malti-poo dog. Meg loves writing novels, short novellas and short stories, both contemporary and historical. Her Spur and Laramie Award winning books - Double Crossing and Double or Nothing - are now among the Prairie Rose Publications book list. Meg is also one-half of the D.E. Ireland team writing the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins Mystery series for St. Martin's Minotaur. Wouldn't It Be Deadly, Book 1, has been nominated for a 2014 AGATHA AWARD for Best Historical Mystery! Book 2, Move Your Blooming Corpse, will be released on September 22, 2015. You can find Meg (and D.E. Ireland) on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. 




Thursday, February 26, 2015

ON THE TRAIL WITH DR RUSH'S BILIOUS PILLS




THE DOCTOR'S BAG

BY

KEITH SOUTER  aka  CLAY MORE





You may think that doctors in the Old West had relatively few drugs at their disposal. In fact, the town doctor who had the time and inclination could compound hundreds of medicines and remedies using the US Pharmacopeia, which was first published in the 1820s. This was a tome containing all of the recognised formulae for compounding the medicines of the day. The year 1875 represented its fifth edition.


Most of the remedies used were botanicals, although many mineral based remedies were also used. And of course, there were many formulae which combined the two.

Heroic medicine 
Medicine in the early19th century was only starting to become scientific. Many doctors practiced heroic medicine, involving bleeding and purgation. This had been a practice extending back to the days of antiquity. It was based on the Doctrine of Humors, the belief that there were four fundamental humours or vital fluids that determined the state of health or illness of a person. These were blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. Diagnosis of the imbalance led the doctor to the treatment, which could be to blister, bleed, purge or give an enema.

Dr Benjamin Rush
Then name of Dr Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) is stamped on the early history of the USA. He was one of the founding fathers of the United States. He was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and was a physician, politician and social reformer. He was a personal friend of Thomas Jefferson and had been the Surgeon General of the Colonial Army. He is considered to be the father of American psychiatry. 


Dr Benjamin Rush (1746-1813)

Without doubt he was the most famous physician of his day. His medical influence was extensive and it is not surprising that Thomas Jefferson asked him to advise Meriweather Lewis and William Clark about medical practice and the medication that they should take with them on their expedition to explore the Great Plains following the Louisiana Purchase. 

Dr Rush was an advocate of heroic medicine, involving bleeding and purgation. Accordingly, he advised them to take copious quantities of calomel in tablets of his own manufacture.

Dr Rush's Bilious Pills
Calomel was one of the most powerful drugs known in the 19th century. It is actually mercurous chloride. It was effective against syphilis and was a powerful 'alterative.' This meant that it affected the patient's constitution. In large doses it was an extremely efficient purgative  (laxative). Unfortunately, it was often prescribed in small doses for long periods, when it would induce what we now know to be mercury poisoning. A consequence of this was that the teeth fell out. Almost certainly George Washington lost his test because of this, as well as his life after heroic medicine physicians treated him for a throat infection by bleeding him and giving him large doses of calomel.


Lewis and Clark

The Lewis and Clark expedition set off from St Louis in 1804 and lasted 2 years, during which they travelled 4,000 miles across the land, during which time they lost only one man, due to appendicitis. It is said that they were both adept wilderness doctors, who treated their men with Dr Rush's Bilious Pills.


Lewis and Clark's expedition 1804-1806

Dr Rush advised that at the first sign of illness they should give one or two of his pills. This meant effectively, at the signs of constipation and abdominal pain, they were to give his calomel-containing laxatives. So effective were they, that they were known as Rush's Thunderbolts!

These pills, which Rush made himself for them contained large amounts of calomel. They purged quickly and furiously, producing a perspiration and an intense salivation reaction that was concluded to be a sure sign that a toxin was being removed from the body. 

The Civil War and the Calomel Rebellion
By the time of the Civil War calomel was immensely popular with doctors. It was not so popular with Dr William Hammond, however. He was a neurologist who was appointed Surgeon General of the Union Army at the age of 34 years, by Abraham Lincoln. He was concerned about the use of calomel and also of 'tarter emetic' (a preparation of antimony and potassium tartrate, which also produced vomiting and a perspiration reaction) and removed them from the Army supplies. He was concerned about the side effects from overuse, including salivation, gum disease, tooth loss and mercurial gangrene. 

Circular Number 6 from him stated that calomel use....'has so frequently been pushed to excess by military surgeons that the only way to deal with it is to banish the drug.'


He went on to say: 'No doubt can exist that more harm has resulted from the misuse of both these agents, in the treatment of disease, than benefit from their administration.' It was his firm belief that they caused more deaths than they apparently saved. 

The medical profession was outraged and led to what has been termed the Calomel Rebellion. To understand this you have to appreciate that there were numerous schools of thought in medicine: Thomsonians, who were against all mineral remedies, hydropaths, who advocated therapeutic bathing, homoeopaths, who used minimum doses of like to deal with like, and Botanics, who prescribed plant remedies. All of these were considered 'faddists,' or quacks by the main medical profession. By removing Calomel and Tarter emetic he was seen as siding with the faddists. He was lampooned as the king of the quacks. 


General William Hammond (1828-1900)

The upshot was that Hammond was effectively framed and had trumped up charges brought against him by a rival. He was court marshalled in 1864.

A watering down
So, calomel and tarter emetic were both reinstated into the Army supplies and continued to be used by both the North and South throughout the war. A sort of concession was made, however, with a reduction in the amount of mercurous chloride used. 

Calomel continued to be used extensively by doctors up until the 1940s, when superior and safer laxative drugs were introduced. 

On the latrine trail of Lewis and Clark
As we know, Lewis and Clark made their way across America from St Louis to Fort Clatsop in Oregon. Interestingly, archaeologists have been able to follow the trail (and their movements) by finding the sites of their latrines, where the heavy metal mercy salts have been detectable in the ground, thanks to the purgative effects of Dr Rush's Bilious Pills.



The formula for watered down Dr Rush Bilious Pills in 1946

******
Keith's latest health book is available in March 2015 from Summersdale




Clay More's novel about Dr George Goodfellow is published in the West of the Big River series by Western Fictioneers. 

Available at Amazon.com:

THE DOCTOR by CLAY MORE




And his collection of short stories about Doc Marcus Quigley is published by High Noon Press



Available at Amazon.com:


And his latest western  novel Dry Gulch Revenge was published by Hale on 29th August.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Western Comics Focus: Django / Zorro


Troy D. Smith

Is the western comic dead? I didn't even know it was sick. The genre is not only alive and kicking, it is expanding in new directions, as evidenced by this very unusual title from Dynamite Comics.


That's right- it's Django meets Zorro.

The Django in question is not only based on the character in Quintin Tarantino's movie, Tarantino supplied the plot for the miniseries, with a script by Matt Wagner and art by Esteve Polls.




Here is the official description:

Set several years after the events of Django Unchained, Django/Zorro #1 finds Django again pursuing the evil that men do in his role as a bounty hunter. Since there's a warrant on his head back east, he's mainly been plying his trade in the western states. After safely settling his wife, Broomhilda, near Chicago, he's again taken to the road, sending her funds whenever he completes a job. It's by sheer chance that he encounters the aged and sophisticated Diego de la Vega - the famed Zorro - and soon finds himself fascinated by this unusual character, the first wealthy white man he's ever met who seems totally unconcerned with the color of Django's skin... and who can hold his own in a fight. He hires on as Diego's "bodyguard" for one adventure and is soon drawn into a fight to free the local indigenous people from a brutal servitude, discovering that slavery isn't exclusive to black folks. In the course of this adventure, he learns much from the older man (much like King Schultz) and, on several occasions, even dons the mask and the whip... of The Fox!


And from Issue #2:

In anticipation of the Transcontinental Railroad, Archduke of Arizona Gorko Langdon has enslaved the natives for labor on a state-wide railway, while he waits for the United States to honor his claim as sovereign of the territory, per the Treaty of Hidalgo-Guadalupe. Learning of the archduke's injustice to the people of Arizona, Don Diego de la Vega enlists the bounty hunter Django as his personal bodyguard as he sets off to undo Langdon's schemes. All too familiar with the cruelties of slavery, Django is eager to assist Diego on this mission, though it is more political than the gunslinger prefers... even so, there seems to be more to the old fox than his fussy millionaire persona lets on.


Here are a few sample pages:


  


No doubt this story will soon be available in a single trade paperback edition. I for one will be watching for it!









Sunday, February 22, 2015

THE LONG WINTER by Vonn McKee



The daughter’s dog ran off last night. He slipped through a gate left ajar for a moment and vanished. ‘Atticus’ is all Border Collie: he’ll attempt to herd anything that moves and only ponders consequences about a half second before they impact him.

We, along with most of the eastern United States, happened to be under an emergency winter weather warning. Roads were glazed with nearly 2 inches of solid ice, snow pellets were falling and the 13 degree temp was not forecast to rise much for days. Search efforts were called off near midnight since it was too hazardous to drive and my daughter was risking frostbite from slogging through ditches and alleyways.

This morning, I printed flyers, suited up in hiking boots and every woolen garment I could find, pointed my SUV down our long 20-per-cent-grade driveway and jitterbugged toward the stone ‘goal’ posts at the bottom of the hill. Since we were under emergency conditions, I figured I didn’t need to mind the red light at the end of our road. By the time I drove/slid the 3 miles to my daughter’s house, Atticus had managed to find his way home. He was cold, muddy, hungry and was the most embarrassed dog I’ve ever seen.

That’s my ‘Winter of 2015’ story.
Minnesota Historical Society

In October of 1880, a little family named Ingalls in DeSmet, South Dakota, was slammed by a three-day blizzard. Over the next seven months, they were ravaged by dozens of frigid whiteouts. Their cattle’s heads and legs froze to the ground. They ran out of food and were reduced to grinding wheat grains in a coffee mill to make crude bread. They ran out of firewood and kerosene. ‘Pa’ Ingalls braided hay into sticks to burn in the stove. The second oldest daughter, Laura, would later recount that she woke to find “ice crackled on the quilt where leaking rain had fallen.”

The family shivered, sang hymns and tried their best to keep spirits up. No trains would reach their town until the following May. With the food and supplies it brought, they were finally able to celebrate Christmas.

This lighthearted cover design belies the
hardship suffered by the Ingalls
family during the long brutal winter.
In her later years, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote an enchanting series of books based on her youth on the frontier. It was “The Long Winter” that my fourth grade teacher read aloud to my class, igniting in me a love for the pioneer’s life. I could feel the terror and the chill to my bones as Laura and her schoolmates became lost in blinding snow…until they stumbled miraculously into the side of a house. My belly rumbled as Ma Ingalls gave thanks and passed around slices of brown bread for one more meager meal.

Meteorologists have confirmed through records that the merciless winter of 1880-81 was just as Laura described it, down to the dates.

I want to be that kind of writer–who captures details that make readers shiver, who brands a story into their minds, who encourages young ones to grow up and be writers too. That caliber of writing is born of inspiration in the face of extreme hardship. I’m working on that one.

I suggested to Atticus this morning that he might want to chronicle his twelve-hour ordeal in the icy wilds of middle Tennessee. He shuddered and averted his eyes as if to say, I’ve seen things. Things civilized dogs ought not to see…

All the best,

Vonn



Keep up with Vonn:








P.S.  A tale of winter and mystery: NOAH RAINS. Something is out there in the snow, and it will change Ephraim Teller's life forever.