Did You Know This About the Old West?
©2013 Lena Nelson Dooley
While writing my McKenna’s Daughters series, I found out a lot of things I didn’t know. And I love the minute details of life that I discover. I try to work them into the story. Here are a few of the things I found and used. Of course, there were a large number of other things, and this blog post couldn’t possibly hold them all.
In the prologues in both book one and book two, I had to research the Oregon Trail wagon trains, then choose the route that would work best for my story.
With Maggie’s Journey, book one, I researched the transcontinental railroad system, especially the part that was in the western United States. I had to figure out how long it would take to travel in 1885 from Seattle,Washington Territory, to Little Rock, Arkansas. The characters stayed in actual hotels of the time period in Denver,Colorado, and St. Louis, Missouri. They had to go east to St. Louis, then travel south-southwest from there to Little Rock.
I also had a hard time picturing Seattle in that time period. The adult reference librarian in the Seattle Public Library helped me find
websites that were gold mines of information that I needed. So almost all the streets, stores, hotels, schools, hospital, etc., were all part of the city in 1885.
For Mary’s Blessing, book two, I spent quite awhile researching Oregon City and Portland. There were a number of interesting things in the books I read. In that time period, some people trained goats to pull sleds. I found a picture of one such goat team. They were planning on using them to pull sleds to the gold fields in Alaska. I didn’t find any information about how successful they were with that endeavor.
I also had to research medical practices of the time period, farming practices around Oregon City, and transportation between Oregon City and Portland. I had the hero and heroine go from Oregon City and Portland by trolley. My editor questioned that, because the information she had said that the electric trolley wasn’t built until 1890. I found pictures of the trolley station and actual trolleys in 1885. The trolleys were pulled by horses or mules along the right-of-way where the tracks were later laid for the electric trolley cars.
With Catherine’s Pursuit, the book that released earlier this month, I found equally interesting details in San Francisco, which I used in the book. I also researched steamship lines of the day. There’s one on the cover, and the hero is a steamship captain. San Francisco had electricity and telephones in 1885, but Portland and Oregon City didn’t.
If you want to see what life was like in 1885 in Seattle, Portland, Oregon City, and
San Francisco, travel with my characters through these places and see how they lived.