Where Love, Adventure and Happily Ever After Meet
Often, as I research a historical book, I run across some little factoid that sets my imagination going. It sometimes has nothing to do with the story I’m researching, and I must store it away from a future book. That’s what happened to me a couple of years ago with what ultimately ended up being the basis for my latest historical, THE RUINATION OF ESSIE SPARKS.
I happened upon a story about the Industrial Schools for Indian Children that popped up in the late 19th century just as the Native Americans were forced onto reservations. I was quite stunned to discover that the government had systematically taken the Native American children from their families and sent them to what amounted to military-like boarding schools where they were stripped of their language, their culture, their long hair and even their names. These schools were often church run, and operated on the necessity of saving the souls of heathen children, but that wasn’t their only goal.
The government cloaked the education of these children in the American culture, forcing them to lose their connection to the tribes they left behind, while offering them little in the way of a future. Many children in these schools never made it out. Sickness and abuse was rampant and, despite BIA involvement, there was little government oversight. Ostensibly, the government believed that this cultural genocide—yes, I said it!—was necessary to help the children integrate into the white world. But it would appear they had no such ambition for them. Once the children had achieved a modicum of ‘education’ and they were mostly turned loose or returned to a culture they no longer felt part of, a wave of helplessness and despair swept over them.
Many turned to alcohol once back on the poverty-stricken reservation, a major problem that is still rampant today. What had once made the Native Americans strong was stripped from them piece by piece. Shortly after these schools came into being, the famous Ghost Dance began among the Indian nations, the last gasp hope that Native Americans might, somehow, miraculously, regain their culture, heritage and freedom. Sadly, that was not to be.
I was even more shocked to learn that these boarding schools existed right up until the 1980’s-90’s, when they were finally closed, following protests and legislation reform. The backlash of the boarding school experience is still visible on reservations today; a fact conveniently omitted from our school history books, along with much else that was done to that amazing culture. In many tribes, their native language is all but forgotten. If you’re interested in hearing more about Indian Boarding Schools, there’s an amazing and heartbreaking documentary about it called “Our Spirits Don’t Speak English.”
In my book, THE RUINATION OF ESSIE SPARKS, Essie is a woman who has lost everything and finds work teaching at one of these schools in the rough world of Montana Territory. The job was not what she expected. My hero, a half-breed Cheyenne who’s come in the dead of night to steal away/rescue one of the children, ends up stealing Essie instead, when the boy is nowhere to be found. The book follows their journey together as they run into the mountains to escape the men pursuing them and to find the boy. But in the end, this is a story of forgiveness and the choices these two very different people make between them and how Essie discovers her own power and finds herself. Is she ruined in the end? You’ll have to read it to find out. I can only say that I fell madly in love with both of them as I wrote this book, not only for their courage, but for their hearts. And besides, can’t all of us stand a little ruination now and then?
I hope you enjoy this book. THE RUINATION OF ESSIE SPARKS will be available for pre-sale soon. This is Book Two in my new Wild Western Rogues series, and if you’ve already read THE LADY TAKES A GUNSLINGER, (and I hope you have!) you’ll be happy to know you’ll run into my H&H from that book, Reese and Grace, in this one, too.
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