Tuesday, November 24, 2020


Post by Doris McCraw writing as Angela Raines 

Photo (c) by Doris McCraw

I recently came across the phrase 'talking with the dead'. Initially, I thought it sounded rather morbid until I thought about what it was really about. To me, it's connecting with the past in ways we might not think about. This also follows an earlier post about what inspires your stories. For those who would like to take a look at that post, here is the link: What Inspires Your Stories 

The second post on inspiring stories: Talking with the Dead- Photographs

The third of what I include for inspiration is Cemeteries: Talking with the Dead - Cemeteries

Part four: Talking with the Dead - Newspapers

This fifth and last post in this series is about books. Perhaps the first book you think of is Edgar Lee Masters work "Spoon River Anthology".  This book is literally people talking to you from their graves. This work is the epitaphs of the residents of Spoon River telling their tales to the reader. I confess I've read it many times. It typifies small-town life and it doesn't hurt that the author lived not far from where I grew up. The stories the residents tell I can relate to. If you are interested you can download a free version of the book here: Spoon River Anthology - free ebook - Gutenberg

However, I am referring to books in a broader sense. The classic Westerns we love are the authors talking to us, telling us how they perceived the area they wrote about. For some, it was based on actual events they observed or took part in. For others, it was retelling the stories they grew up with or read about.

There is also the diaries and snippets contained in various books that have been published over time. Helen (Hunt) Jackson wrote about the life and people she observed as she traveled. Her work, "Bits of Travel at Home" is an enlightening read. Published in 1878, Helen's essays are an on the ground view of train travel, city growth, and people who caught her eye. You can download the book here: Bits of Travel at Home or perhaps "Century of Dishonor", first published in 1881 chronicling the Indian's treaties with the government. You can download the free book here: Century of Dishonor

The "Covered Wagon Women" series of books uses letters and diaries to tell the story of the trek west. Or perhaps Isabella Bird's book about her travels in the Rocky Mountains. "A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains" published in 1879, is a fascinating read, as Isabella recounts her journies through Colorado. You can download the Gutenberg project ebook here: A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains

These and many more books have given me numerous pieces of information on life during the time I write on. They have inspired ideas that become short stories or novels. So when I talk and write about 'Talking with the Dead', I am referring to the wealth of information those who came before have left us. 

Here's to the story inspired by the past. Here's to those who keep the Western alive with tales taken from pieces of history. Here's to the next book or anthology celebrating our shared past.

May you all have the best remainder of November possible. Please stay safe and well. I look forward to your next story.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet


  1. w00t First Comment!

    I've often felt as if I were carrying on a conversation with the author when I read a good book, especially a historical one. I've read Isabella Bird's travelogue and it's excellent. Now I need to check out the Covered Wagon Series too! Thanks for another great post.

    1. My pleasure. The Covered Wagon series is about eleven books and it goes by years. Hope you enjoy it.

      I loved Bird's book also. Happy reading and Happy Thanksgiving. Doris

  2. Doris, I always love your posts! I remember as a kid going over the fence from the park we all played in to the cemetery next door to the park. We kids would walk through the cemetery and read the headstones and many of them had pictures of the person, especially if it was a child--and we'd figure out how old they were, and talk about them--after a while, it was almost like we knew them. When I got older my mom told me about how she and her best friend often walked to the small cemetery where they lived and visited the graves--they knew the history of everyone in the town, and of course, she would tell me stories about them. When we had occasion to visit that cemetery, she would point out the graves she and her friend Mary had visited as young kids. One day when we were there, the father of an entire family of kids who'd been killed when lightning hit the tree they were under was there, cleaning off their graves. He and Mom started talking and of course, they reminisced about his family. That was when I truly, truly understood the connection between past and present. Great post, as always, Doris!

    1. That is such an exciting story about your walking in the cemetery, and I love your memory of your mother. My mother didn't like cemeteries, but she indulged me when I wanted to go. She was willing to share what she knew of those buried there.

      Thank you for your continued support, it means a lot. Doris

  3. Doris,

    I have an affinity for cemeteries. My maternal grandfather was the caretaker of our hometown cemetery for several years, and I spent a lot of time with him there. The Covered Wagon Women books are an untold wealth of information. Another book written by a woman that gives us a glimpse into her life and the time in which she lived, loved, worked, and left her mark on history is "At the End of the Santa Fe Trail" by Sister Blandina Segale. She spent a good deal of her life in Trinidad, Colorado. The work women's religious orders in the settling of the Old West is fascinating reading regardless of a person's religious views. The history is rich.

    As always, I enjoy your articles, and I always look forward to your next one.

    1. Cemeteries are so special, aren't they Kaye? I'm glad you've read Covered Wagon Women and Sister Blandina's book. It is a great read.

      Thank you for the encouragement. I do enjoy my research. I understand they are suppose to be making a movie based on Sister Blandina's book. Doris

  4. Doris,

    This certainly is an interesting new way of describing books and information available to us to research the past, so that we can accurately write about it in a story or novel.

    I actually think in many cases, people of the past spoke in a manner we cannot quite capture.

    But we as writers do try very hard to get it right.

    A very interesting and informative post, thank you.

    Charlie Steel

    1. Charlie, I can understand that feeling we are missing pieces from the past, but I keep trying as I think writers of the past do.

      I appreciate your reponse and insights. Doris

  5. I always enjoy your blogs! Reading research books about the time in which we write enriches our writing. I have trouble passing up a research book.

    1. You and I both Caroline when it comes to research books. I also thank you for your kind words. I do love my research. (Smile) Doris

  6. A top post, thank you for writing. And a subject often on my mind. On Springsteen's latest album he has a song called "Ghosts" and the lyrics, "Ghosts runnin' through the night/Our spirits filled with light," and thats how I've always come to consider the dead. Often I will feel, for example, my mom's presence and will ask her whats on her mind. Heck, if its just my overactive imagination, well, I'm okay with that too.

    1. Thank you for the kind words about the post. If you're a fan of Springsteen you're a pretty cool guy. I also like those lines.

      However we 'feel' those who pass on, whether real or imagination, if it works for a person, who's to say. Doris