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American Indians, Researching Historical Fiction, Women in the West

The Beauty and Meaning of Ghost Dance Shirts

Many of the American Indian tribes that participated in the Ghost Dances in the late 1800s created special shirts and dresses for that purpose and infused them with meaning and power. In “Identity by Design: Tradition, Change, and Celebration in Native Women’s Dresses,” Colleen Cutschall wrote: “Both buckskin and cloth Ghost Dance dresses were painted… Continue reading The Beauty and Meaning of Ghost Dance Shirts

American Indians, Famous People of the Old West, Researching Historical Fiction

Plains Indians and the Tragic Lure of the Ghost Dance

The Ghost Dance movement that swept through the western Indian tribes in the late 1800s formed a tragic trajectory from Sitting Bull’s death to the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890. After the U.S. government corralled Indians onto reservations, Congress promptly cut appropriations, drastically reducing rations for Indians at a time when crops were failing. A… Continue reading Plains Indians and the Tragic Lure of the Ghost Dance

American Indians, Famous People of the Old West, Researching Historical Fiction

Remembering the 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee, S.D.

It’s a bit overwhelming to write a post about Wounded Knee, both because of the complexity of the events leading up to the massacre and the enormity of the heartbreak, but I wanted to note the date—126 years ago today. What was originally called a battle and now widely acknowledged as a massacre happened two… Continue reading Remembering the 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee, S.D.

American Indians, Famous People of the Old West, Researching Historical Fiction

Where is Sitting Bull Buried?

You’d think the answer would be simple, but the question sent me down one rabbit hole of research after another. Sitting Bull, the great Hunkpapa Lakota leader, was killed on December 15, 1890, at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota during a botched arrest. He had surrendered to federal authorities several years earlier, but… Continue reading Where is Sitting Bull Buried?

Blacks in the Old West, Famous People of the Old West, Researching Historical Fiction

Bulldogger Bill Pickett and Blacks in the Old West

In the course of doing some research, I stumbled on a fascinating item about rodeo star Bill Pickett. He invented bulldogging, the only standard rodeo event that can be traced to a single individual. “The End and the Myth” describes it this way: “He could throw a steer without using his hands, forcing the beast… Continue reading Bulldogger Bill Pickett and Blacks in the Old West

American Civil War, American Indians, Researching Historical Fiction, Women in the West

Standing Rock Sioux and the Whitestone Massacre of 1863

The effort by the Standing Rock Sioux to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is the largest gathering of Indian tribes in decades. As Mark Sundeen so eloquently put it on Outside Online: “Two of our country’s biggest issues, racism and climate change, have collided on a North Dakota reservation.” It’s also about history.… Continue reading Standing Rock Sioux and the Whitestone Massacre of 1863

Researching Historical Fiction

‘Bad Air’ and Undertakers: Yellow Fever in 19th-Century America

I’ve been reading about the yellow fever outbreak in Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo and thinking about how deadly the disease used to be in the U.S. Fortunately, there is a vaccine now, although it is in short supply. A century and a half ago, people didn’t even understand how the disease spread. A… Continue reading ‘Bad Air’ and Undertakers: Yellow Fever in 19th-Century America

American Indians, Researching Historical Fiction

Revolutionary War in My Own Backyard

Moving to New England has shifted my awareness of history back a century or two. As a result, I’ve been trying to refresh my knowledge of the Revolutionary War and realizing that my early education in mercantilism and the House of Burgesses and Colonial Virginia is woefully inadequate (and, unfortunately, mostly forgettable). The Fort at… Continue reading Revolutionary War in My Own Backyard

American Civil War, Famous People of the Old West, Photography and History, Researching Historical Fiction

Historical Icons in Living Color

A photo of Ulysses Grant colorized by Mads Madsen The spring issue of the Civil War Trust’s Hallowed Ground magazine had photos of Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee that I’d seen before, but this time I did a doubletake. The photos were in color. I was baffled for a moment. There was no color… Continue reading Historical Icons in Living Color

American Civil War, Researching Historical Fiction, Writing/Rewriting

A Portrait of Rural Life after the Civil War

In Jeffrey Lent’s new novel “A Slant of Light,” Union soldier Malcolm Hopeton comes home to his farm in western New York to discover that his wife has run off with his hired hand. What he does in a fit of rage propels him to flee — and sets in motion a somewhat unconventional narrative.… Continue reading A Portrait of Rural Life after the Civil War

American Civil War, Researching Historical Fiction, Resources and Events for Writers

Ford’s Theatre After Lincoln’s Assassination

After President Lincoln was killed, the government shut down Ford’s Theatre and imprisoned owner John T. Ford for over a month. By the time he was released, arsonists had tried at least twice to burn the building down. When Ford announced plans to reopen the theater, he received so many threats that the government took… Continue reading Ford’s Theatre After Lincoln’s Assassination

Researching Historical Fiction, Resources and Events for Writers

Science and the Afterlife

I've experienced a series of losses this year, which have me thinking about what happens to our loved ones when they die and will I ever see them again? Greg Taylor's "Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife" is an attempt to examine the scientific evidence that consciousness survives death, and it's a refreshing approach… Continue reading Science and the Afterlife