ancient history, books, cats, general wackiness, Hiccups in History, literature, nonfiction, research, review, Uncategorized, US history, writing

Cats in History

Hiccups in HistoryAlthough Reddit can be, in the immortal words of Obi Wan Kenobi “a wretched hive of scum and villainy,” it is also the source of historical amusement, if you are selective about the subreddits you follow. One of my favorite is Old News, which shares interesting old newspaper articles on various and sundry subjects. A couple cat-related ones I discovered lately earn the Hiccups in History designation.

Forgive the yellow highlights, which I can’t seem to get rid of. These items are from the California Digital Newspaper collection, which lists sources from 1846 to the present.

Capture

Since I have a currently untitled Icebound tale in the works that is set in 1910’s Alaska, this one caught my eye. I wonder about how H.J. Coleman’s cat scheme turned out. It is rather ingenious, though how in the world did warmth-loving cats fare in Alaska?

Capture2

And then there is this one, in which cats are meant to combat “great armies of gophers.” Did they put on armor and sally forth with tiny little swords, guns, and tanks? I’m reminded of this infamous gif:

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Currently, I’m almost finished reading a wonderful nonfiction history of cats. I haven’t been able to find much in the way of real history about animals so I was thrilled to find Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat by L.A. Vocelle of http://www.thegreatcat.org. The book relies on artwork and literature primarily to fill in the historical gaps, primarily in the ancient time periods, and even through the Middle Ages. Artwork and literature are useful in that they demonstrate the presence of cats and how they were conceived of, at least by the social class that is depicted, and they are particularly pleasant to examine–not always the case with books, unfortunately!

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The author also makes use of some older histories of domestic animals published in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s always a bit perilous to write a complete history of anything because an author opens herself up to claims of “but you forgot this and that” which I suppose I am super sensitive to, but this book seems to carry it off with confidence.

It is written in engaging language and focuses on particularly interesting–and sometimes tragic–instances and individuals important to feline history. It proceeds chronologically and while it is well-written, it is also largely unbiased, another important feature of historical writing. Relevant photos and pictures are provided, a timeline, lists of tombs and cemeteries in Egypt to do with cats, and a voluminous references section. In short, this book is a giant YES and will be included in my future historical writings.

If you have any other references for me to check out please feel free to leave them in the comments.

 

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books, freelance, history, travel, Uncategorized, US history

The Negro Travelers’ Green Book – 1954

When I was a freshman in high school, we moved from a comfortable home in the heart of Phoenix to the boonies, the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. My dad worked in Indian Health Service, and he got a job at the hospital there. We lived in the “compound,” a group of homes constructed for the government employees.

There, stray dogs were endemic, and horses also ran wild, their coats knotted and their tails tangled. One horse left us a gift the day we moved in: a gigantic dump of manure two feet from the front door.

My time on the reservation was the first time I was a true minority, and it was an eye-opening experience. Here I was among people who not only looked different than I did, but spoke differently, and had a different culture. I rode the bus into Globe, about 20 miles, because there was no high school on the rez. All the way into town we sat silently on the bus, not talking. The driver played music as we wound along the remote road, mesas to the left of us and arroyos to the right. A bus full of white kids was a raucous affair – everyone chattering and laughing and moving back and forth to different seats. Not so Indian buses. On the weekends, strains of traditional Apache music filtered from the radio, across the parched earth. I had two good friends – twins who were Indians from Mexico. The other kids called us “Oreo” because when we would walk the two darker girls were on either side of me, the white one.

Soon enough we moved into town and I was once again in the majority. I was reminded of my experience when researching for various freelance writing jobs that dealt with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. One of the surprising pieces of information I learned was that African Americans could not just jump in their cars and travel across the country in the early to mid 20th century (and probably beyond, too, depending on where they went). They had to be careful to stay in placed that welcomed them. Places they would be safe, and accepted. They had to make use of guides like this one, The Negro Travelers’ Green Book:

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Take a look at the page for Alabama, Arizona, and Arkansas. It’s sobering to see that some listings are for personal homes, because hotels or motels in the area couldn’t be trusted. The same was true for other travelers’ services.

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About Comics in Camarillo, California has recently begun reprinting old copies of the guides, which were published from 1936 through the 1960s when at last legal segregation was outlawed. These guides provide a sobering, and educational, look at the history of everyday life, and what it meant to live in a country where skin color was – and still is – so crucial to one’s experience.

books, literature, Uncategorized, US history

Book Review: Wisconsin Logging Camp, 1921: A Boy’s Extraordinary First Year in America Working as a “Chickadee”

That’s quite to book title, isn’t it? Well, it’s an interesting book and worthy of a looooong title. Here’s another of my Historical Novel Society reviews.

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Wisconsin Logging Camp, 1921: A Boy’s Extraordinary First Year in America Working as a “Chickadee” by James Bastian. Trails, 2015. ISBN 9781934553541; $18.95, Paperback.

Will Heinlein is only eight years old when he finds himself an orphan. Suddenly he is a new immigrant to the United States with no family nearby and no prospects. How will he survive, much less live up to the promise of the book’s subtitle?

The narrative opens years later when Will is a wounded soldier in World War II, and then backtracks to Will’s childhood. It takes a while before he becomes the promised Chickadee, or a boy who was given the job of helping the loggers by tending to the trails of their horse-drawn wagons. First, though, the reader is taken on an engaging trip through the struggles of American immigrants and European soldiers and country people. When Will finally does get to the logging camp, his experiences are well-detailed and immerse the reader in the personalities, dangers, and concerns of the workers.

The book is an unusual mishmash of fiction and nonfiction. The title and black and white photographs point toward nonfiction while the storyline and characters are fictional. The narrative reminded me of an oral interview with an irascible old World War II veteran. Well-researched without being pedantic, it gives a good look into the challenges of the era: war, disease, and economic devastation. Similarly, it shows how hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit helped America to thrive even before the explosion of prosperity that World War II engendered.

The author has a strong voice and a good hand with characterization. Despite this, though, it was sometimes hard to accept that an eight-year-old protagonist would speak and behave in the manner portrayed. If you can overlook this flaw, however, the story will take you on an entertaining journey.

general wackiness, Hiccups in History, history, humor, reblogged, Uncategorized, US history

Hiccups in History, the Drunken Cow Edition

Behold, gentle reader! Here you witness the start of an intermittent series of blog posts designed to feature those subjects that are dear to my writerly heart. Namely, the quirks of history, which is called, descriptively enough, Hiccups in History.

Hiccups in History

The very first of such posts is a reblog by TwistedSifter. It’s just too good to pass up. More hiccups to come soon!

Photograph via Library of Congress In this old law enforcement photo from 1924, we see a police officer trying on a ‘cow shoe’ used by moonshiners to disguise their footprints. In the United States alcohol was banned from 1920-1933 in an era known as Prohibition. Moonshine (a type of strong, homemade whiskey) was often…

via Cow Shoes Used by Moonshiners During Prohibition to Disguise Their Footprints — TwistedSifter

history, research, Uncategorized, US history

The Old West’s Most Interesting Woman

People are sometimes surprised to find out that I never studied writing formally. Instead, I majored in history – both for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. Why? Because history is nothing but stories. And you know the saying: truth is stranger than fiction.

So it is that while researching mountain men for one of my freelance projects I came upon the story of an amazing woman in the Old West: Stagecoach Mary. This 6 foot tall, 200-lb woman picked up and moved into Montana at the age of 52 years. There, she first worked for the Jesuits and next for a convent, where she chopped wood, dug holes, tended as many as 400 chickens, and grew vegetables for the nuns. Though she was devoted to the nuns and their Indian students at the mission, she was well known to have “the temperament of a grizzly bear.” She smoked, swore, and engaged in rounds of fisticuffs with her fellow hired hands. These behaviors got her banned from the mission in 1884 despite the protestations of the nuns.

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Yes, indeed, Stagecoach Mary could kick ass and take names with the best of them. She smoked homemade cigars and was once attacked by wolves while alone on the prairie. I guess you know who got the bad end of that deal. After the nun debacle she tried to run a couple of restaurants, but because she kept giving meals to the down and out, she couldn’t make a go of it. In 1895, at the age of 63, she got a job delivering mail for the post office. As a job interview she and a dozen young cowboys had to hitch a team of six horses to a stagecoach as quickly as possible. She won to become the second woman – and the first black person – to manage a mail route. For eight years she carried mail back and forth to Montana pioneers. With the help of her mule, Moses, she braved icy blizzards and heat waves in the remote land.

Stagecoach Mary, also known as Black Mary, was christened Mary Fields when she was born into slavery in 1832, in Hickman County, Tennessee. After the Civil War guaranteed her freedom, she worked for a time as a chambermaid on a steamboat named the Robert E. Lee.  She witnessed the steamer’s race against Steamboat Bill’s Natchez in 1870. During the race, the men tossed anything they could get their hands on into the boiler – from barrels of resin to slabs of ham and bacon. Other men sat on the relief valves in order to increase the steam pressure.

At 71, she gave up her postal route to run a laundry – and famously punched out a customer who hadn’t paid up the $2 he owed her. Reportedly, she spent more time drinking whiskey and smoking cigars than washing clothes. So she took up babysitting the local kids. One of those local kids was actor Gary Cooper, who visited her hometown of Cascade, Montana from nearby Dearborn. He wrote a story about her for Ebony magazine in 1959.

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The only black resident of Cascade, she had plenty of friends in the townfolk. One was Kirk Huntley, who, when he sold his hotel in 1910, stipulated that she was to be offered all the meals she wanted free of charge. Her house burned down in 1912 and the town pitched in to build her a new one. She was also a baseball fan who sponsored the Cascade baseball team and made sure that each player had buttonhole bouquets of flowers from her garden.

At the age of 82 she grew ill, and stole away to die in the tall grass near her home. But children who she had babysat found her and she was spirited off to the hospital in Great Falls, where she died a few days later, in 1914.

dogs, history, research, Uncategorized, US history, writing

Animals in History, Oh My!

If I had unlimited time, I would probably spend several hours a day, every day, learning Latin and perusing old newspaper articles. Alas, I do not have unlimited time, but in my research for various fiction and nonfiction projects I do come across some interesting bits now and again. You may recall my rampaging monkey post. This is another post in the same vein.

First we will start with the wild. Bears! I do believe this has the makings of an American nursery tale.

bears history
Thursday, November 2, 1894. Sturgeon Bay, WI, Vol XXII, The Democrat.

Goodness gracious, great balls of fire! Hyenas can be pretty dangerous, too.

Chicago cemeteries hyena

Dogs in danger always pulls at the heartstrings! It seems that Jack London’s Call of the Wild may have inspired some unsavory people:

Dog slavers
June 18, 1910, v. 26 n.25, Sausalito News.

And last, but not least, apparently dogs have been accompanying folks on car rides for quite some time.

dog automobile
March 19, 1905, Omaha Daily Bee.

You will notice that these articles are from around the turn of the 20th century. That’s the setting of my latest project, a quirky romance between a dog musher/postman and a bicycle-riding pastor in 1911 Alaska. Check out my newsletter to keep apprised of its progress and to read free flash fiction while you are at it.

history, research, travel, Uncategorized, US history

1920’s Postcard America

My mom passed away last February, old and full of years, as the Bible says. With her passed a bygone era, at least for me: farm life in rural Pennsylvania. From a family of Mennonites, frugality, simplicity, and family were the paramount values. She carried these with her whole life, as well as other things.

Mainly, junk.

Yes, I said it. I love my mother dearly (I can’t use the past tense because I still love her even though she’s gone) but she did tend to keep things way too long. Going through her stuff is a lengthy process that involves much head-shaking. Why did you keep this 1980’s era badge from when you worked in a convenience store, mom? Why did you keep every piece of crappy jewelry I had as a teenager – even when it was broken or missing pieces (one earring)? Just … why?

I think the answer lies in the “frugality” I mentioned above. Born in the late ’30s, she came into an America still in the grips of the Great Depression, when jobs were as scarce as consumer goods. Her frugality would be considered poverty today. And as anyone who has struggled with it knows, it leaves scars. And also thrifty habits. Believe me, I am grateful for learning how to get a dollar’s worth at the store. I’m also grateful for the memories of button boxes, homemade clothes, and the do-it-yourself ethos. Reusing the old green toilet cover as landscaping did seem to be taking it a bit too far, though.

Anyhow, along with the junk she also kept lots and lots of pictures, slides, and cards. I came across these lovely 1920s postcards during my search, some which were sent by my grandfather, who passed away in the ’70s. We live in a much different world today when it comes to travel. I’ve crisscrossed the country several times and flown all over the world. But up until the interstate system came into being in 1956 (and not completed for 35 years) it was a royal pain to go any distance. And of course the vehicles were not so comfortable and quick-moving. You can get a good sense of the difficulties and challenges involved in Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck’s cross-country travel memoir.

It was a real thrill to go somewhere different. Like Virginia:

virginia

Where you could see all manner of things, which fold out accordion-style, like this image of Monticello:

monticello

Or the Hudson River:

hudson-river

Photos within this package (look close for the old-timey cars):

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And, a world away from small-town Pennsylvania, Chicago:

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So many sights to see, there! Why, sailboats, even:

chicago2There’s more, but these are the most fascinating to me, history-lover that I am. My latest fiction project takes place in 1911 America, so finding these was particularly relevant.

Thanks, mom.