Friday, August 6, 2010

Story Elements: Follow the Stars Home

I'm very excited for tomorrow's release of Follow the Stars Home, my Native American romance and my second historical novel.

Like Angels Sinners and Madmen, Follow the Stars Home came together after meticulous research. Based on the 1879 founding of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Follow the Stars Home weaves true accounts with fictional characters.

I first learned about the Carlisle Indian Industrial School from a PBS special shortly after moving to Carlisle, Pa. I found the episode so compelling, I would purposely drive by the students' graveyard on what is now the Army War College.

Descendants visit the graveyard and leave offerings on this tree, or place them on the headstones.

The Cumberland County Historical Society has a wonderful exhibit of photographs and artifacts at its Carlisle museum.

When I came upon this near-life-sized exhibit, I felt as if the schoolchildren stood in the same room looking back at me. A chilling experience.

Later, Dickinson College's Trout Gallery had an exhibit on the school called Visualizing a Mission. Displays included photographs of the students, some of their personal effects such as drums, clothing and moccasins. The most striking was the pictograph created by Etahdleuh Doanmoe called A Kiowa’s Odyssey, which documents the experiences of this student.

Captain Pratt's motto was: Kill the Indian, Save the Man. In some cases, it just killed the Indian. Students died of exposure to foreign diseases, or sheer homesickness, or sometimes suicide. Many ran away. In fact, many ran away to join the spectacular traveling show Buffalo Bill's Wild West.

Pratt despised the show, not surprisingly. He wanted to obliterate the culture, and hated that the show glorified it instead. When circumstances turn against Black Bear, now called Samuel, he runs away to find the show. He's been beaten, locked in the guard house, forced to change his name and cut his hair, and is no longer sure of who he is. He feels undeserving of Rose Quiet Thunder, who seems to have adapted well to the school's rigid structure.

Rose Quiet Thunder may have learned everything the teachers hoped, but sees through the propaganda of their school newspaper when she joins the staff. Devastated when Samuel Black Bear runs away, she stays at the school several more years. Once she realizes it would take another several years for her to graduate, she opts to go home instead. She intends to do what she can to preserve the Lakota culture Pratt's trying to destroy.

The characters in my novel are fictional. No disrespect is intended in writing from a Lakota perspective, and I hope to honor those first students with this story. Imagining their journey from a human perspective, I wove in Lakota mythology and legend, using books such as Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz' American Indian Myths and Legends, and James Mooney's The Ghost-Dance Religion. Linda Witmer's "The Indian Industrial School" provided a great deal of information about the student's daily lives, along with fascinating photos. Pratt was careful to document students' progress through photographs, showing them as sad savages upon their arrival, and happy, neatly dressed civilians after attending his school.

Surprisingly, I also found a news account from the local newspaper, then called the Valley Sentinel. Dated Friday, October 10, 1879, it began:

"About twelve o'clock on Sunday night Captain Pratt arrived at the Junction with eighty-six Sioux Indian children, whom he had just selected from the Rosebud and Pine Sage agency, varying in age from ten to seventeen. Their dress was curious, made of different cheap material, and representing all the shades and colors. Cheap jewelry was worn by the girls. Their moccasins are covered with fancy bead work. They carry heavy blankets or shawls with them, and their appearance would not suggest that their toilet was a matter of care. Some of them were very pretty, while others are extremely homely. All possessed the large black eye, beautiful pearl-white teeth, the high cheek-bone, straight-cut mouth and peculiar nose."

Imagine those poor kids arriving at midnight in a town full of white strangers, so far from their loved ones. I hope I did them justice.


Kelly A. Harmon said...

Thanks for the story behind the story, Cate.

I love graveyards, too, for inspiration.

Wishing you sales galore! Happy launch.

Cate Masters said...

Yes! Graveyards are full of great stories. :) Thanks much!