Thursday, January 03, 2008

Kansas, We Have a Winner

The state of Kansas has become the focus of research for my expansion of my flash piece for Bernita's contest. It will probably amount to one sentence out of hundreds, but I want to be as authentic as I can when portraying the life of a boy growing up in the lawless old west. I've always liked historical fiction. Kansas turns out to be the perfect setting. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska act opened up the two territories for homesteaders, and some ninety thousand people started their journey into the west from the mouth of the Kansas River, which is commonly referred to as the Kaw. Beyond that begins the Great Plains, which for some unknown reason, already had trails leading across them. The speculation was that perhaps it was the Buffalo or the Indians that had blazed them, but they already existed.

I found two books from my local library. The first is The Kaw: The Heart of a Nation. I've only just started it, but this is definitely the focus of my research. Not only do I get exact descriptions of the landscape throughout the state, but of the pioneers that came from all parts of the world to settle there. There are descriptions of the initial settlements, wages paid, famous outlaws, the division of the prairies by barbed wire. This is going to be a cover-to-cover read for me. I'm tentatively setting this story in 1865, just after the Civil War. Kansas was an anti-slave state, but neighboring Missouri was pro. In fact, Kansas was the staging ground for the Civil War. My two characters were initially white, but now I'm thinking that my boy character is white, and that the other is an ex-slave that escaped from Missouri into Kansas and was taken in by the boy's father. This man and the boy's father both join the Union forces, leaving the boy and his mother to survive alone for the entire four years of the war. That's the start of it.

The other book I have is Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier. This is a collection of first-hand accounts from – you guessed it – women of the Kansas frontier. I'm looking forward to this too, because this should give me everything I need to convey the life of a family on its own without a man to help. Life back then was terribly brutal, and I want to capture that.

Lastly, I found a link to nineteenth century slang. And Wikipedia is just amazing. I've been reading about hoop skirts and bustles to start with, but the links take me sometimes seven degrees of separation from my original subject. For instance, I was reading about the hoop skirt and somehow ended up on escarpment.

If only we had these tools in high school.

10 comments:

Shesawriter said...

I once spent a good four hours following Wiki links doing research one time. You can get lost on that site.

Happy New Year, Scott! :-)

Kaycie said...

There were also Indian reservations in Kansas at that time, which might add a bit of interest or a different dimension to your story. One I am familiar with is the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) reservation in what became Wyandotte County. Sounds like great stuff.

Trevor Record said...

Haha, yeah I think that since I found out about wikipedia I've learned a lot of weird things. It reminds me of the news service in that movie Starship Troopers some times "would you like to learn more? yes/no"

Alan said...

The project is going to be the journey of how Bobby got to the spot that he's in in the flash piece, or are there going to be some differences?

Scott said...

Tanya - You too, and thanks!

Kaycie - Oh yes. Definitely. I've got a map of Kansas and the surrounding states that shows all the major trails, rivers, etc. All the existing counties of the time, where the Indian tribes were generally located, and all the army forts as well. Oklahoma at the time was called Indian Territory, but it didn't take long to take that away from the Indians as well. Thanks for the input. I actually don't see Lenni Lenape anywhere on the map, not yet anyway. I sure see a huge spread in the western portion of the state occupied by the Cheyenne...

Trevor - I remember that part of the movie. Not far off the mark, was it?

Alan - I'll probably change it up a little. My plan was to have the Cole character be black, having been part of the family since Bobby was a little boy. When Bobby runs with the wrong crowd, he starts to see Cole through different eyes, and starts to suspect him of wrongdoing where his father was concerned. In the end, Cole has true to his word, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and the obvious temptation that any other man would have succumbed to.

Kaycie said...

Here's a link to a 1955 paper that was published in a brochure. This is really fascinating stuff.

http://www.kckps.org/disthistory/pdf%20files/delaware_indians_alan-farley.pdf

I'm from Oklahoma and I've lived in Kansas, so I'm pretty familiar with the area you're interested in. There is a very rich history here, one that we don't hear much about. I think it's great you're using it in your writing.

Bernita said...

I am so pleased you decided to expand that piece!

Beth said...

Be super careful with Wikipedia. They are wrong so much of the time that it's frightening.

That warning besides, Happy New Year!

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

Yeah, what Beth says is true. Wiki can be somewhat innacurate. But, It's still a fantastic tool for learning.

I want to watch Starship troopers again after what Trevor said.

Dixie Belle said...

Since my historical evolves around the James-Younger gang, I've done a lot of research on that area. Thanks for the slang link.