It’s long been an opinion of mine that unless we as a people know our history, we will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Now, aside from the fact that history is often told by the victor — and the fact that there are elements amongst us that would like our history to be hidden — it has been one of my goals in writing historical romances to try to bring a sense of the time and place alive again. Whether I accomplish this or not is probably in the eye of the beholder.
But, regardless, with this in mind, I thought I’d bring you some of the thrills of research — things that we aren’t really taught in history classes (which is really the fun of research, I think). Probably the most cherished historical reference I use to the long ago time (the 1830’s) is George Catlin. He went amongst the Indians round and about 1834 and he not only painted their pictures, he left a memorable record that for me brings the past alive.
Here’s a passage that really brings the past alive, I think: “I have just been painting a number of the Crows, fine looking and noble gentlemen. They are really a handsome and well-formed set of men as can be seen in any part of the wrold. There is a sort of ease and grace added to their dignity of manners, which gives them the air of gentlemen at once. I observed teh other day that most of them were over six feet high, and very many of these have cultivated their natural hair to such an almost incredible length, that it sweeps teh ground as they walk; there are frequent instances of this kind amongst them, and in some cases, a foot or more of it will drag on the grass as they walk, giving exceeding grace and beauty to their movements.”
Here’s another passage: “The fashion of long hair amongst the men, prevails throughout all the Western and North Western tribes, after passing the Sacs and Foxes; and the Pawnees of teh Platte, who, with two or three other tribes only, are in the habit of shaving nearly the whole head.”
And how about a buffalo hunt? Here’s a passage that makes me feel as if I am there: “The horses are all trained for this business, and seem to enter into it with as much enthusiasm, and with as restlaess a spirit as the riders themselves. While “stripping” and mounting, they exhibit the most restless impatience; and when “approaching” — (which is, all of us abreast, upon a slow walk, and in a straight line towards the herd, — until they discover us and run), they all seem to have caught entirely the spirit of the chase, for the laziest nag amongst prances with an elasticity in his step — champing his bit — his ears erect — his eyes strained out of his head, and fixed upon the game before him, whilst he trembles uner the saddle of his rider… …we started! (and all must start, for no one could check the fury of those steeds at that moment of excitement), and away all sailed, and over the prairie flew, in a cloud of dust which was raised by their trampling hoofs.”
Once more on the beauty of the people: “They live in a country well-stocked with buffaloes and wild horses, which furnish them an exellent and easy living; their atmosphere is poure, which produces good health and long life; and they are the most independent and the happiest races of Indians I have met with: they are all entirely in a state of primitive wildness, and consequently are picturesque and handsome, almost beyond description. Nothing in the world, of its kind, can possibly surpass in beauty and grace, some of their games and amusements — their gambols and parades, of which I shall speak and paint hereafter.” Bet they never told you that in history class, huh?
Nowadays, I can’t begin to tell you how many people write to me about obesity seen amongst the American Indians on the reservations. Of course this is a generality and hardly true of all people, but I want to emphasis that the foods that were sent to the Indians during the beginning of reservation days did not provide a diet that was healthful. Listen to this passage from George Catlin, written in 1834: “I have for a long time been of opinion, that the wilderness of our country afforded models equal to those from which the Grecian sculptors transferred to the marble such inimitable grace and beauty; and I am now more confirmed in this opinion, since I have immersed myself in the midst of thousands and tens of thousands of these knights of the forest; whose whole lives are lives of chivalry, and whose daily feats, with their naked limbs, might vie with those of the Grecian youths in the beautiful rivalry of the Olympian games.” But if that’s not enough, Catlin goes on:
“No man’s imagination, with all the aids of description that can be given to it, can ever picture the beauty and wildness of scenes that may be daily witnessed in this romantic country; of hundreds of these graceful youths, without a care to wrinkle, or a fear to disturb the full expression of pleasure and enjoyment that beams upon their faces — their long black hair mingling with their horses’ tails, floating in the wind, while they are flying over the carpeted prairie, and dealing death with their spears and arrows, to a band of infuriated buffaloes; or their splendid procession in a war-parade, arrayed in all their gorgeous colours and trappings, moving with most exquisite grace and manly beauty, added to that bold defiance which man carries on his front, who acknowledges no superior on earth, and who is amenable to no laws except the laws of God and honour.”
And while I’m on the subject, let me make one more quote: This Catlin writes about the Blackfeet: “There is an appearance purely classic in the plight and equipment of these warriors and ‘knights of the lance.’ They are almost literally always on their horses’ backs, and they wield these weapons with desperate effect upon the open plains; where they kill their game while at full speed, and contend in the manner in battles with their enemy. There is one prevailing custom in these respects, amonst all the tribes who inhabit the great plains or prairies, in these respects, amongst all the tribes who inhabit the great plains or prairies, of these western regions. These plains afford them an abundance of wild and fleet horses, which are easily7 procured; and on their backs at full speed, they can come alongside of any animal, which they easily destroy.”
Well, I hope that this post has conveyed a sense of the time and place for you. I hope that perhaps — for a short time only — you could picture how it might have been at that time. Oh, how I wish that politics and greed hadn’t combined in some people to cause them to try to destroy another people who might have enriched the incoming culture with the wealth of knowledge that they had accumulated. Imagine what could have been — for them — for the incoming culture.
I’ll sign off here today with the covers of my most recent books, which if you don’t already own a copy, please pick one up today — at any online bookstore or at your local bookstore. You’ll have to tell me if my stores bring the era alive or not.
It is my intention to do so, and to that end, I continue to write.
Know that I may be on the road when this is published on the blog — my daughter is pregnant and was due early in November and so we expect a call any day now, at which time, my husband and I will jump in our car ( we rarely fly anymore ) and make the drive to the East Coast. I also will — as usual — be giving away a free copy of one of my books to some lucky blogger. So come on in and leave a comment.