Relocation of Fort Kearny

In a post several years ago, I mentioned that Fort Kearny was relocated from near what is now Nebraska City, Nebraska, to a location further west along the Platte River. I described the surveying of the new fort site in Lead Me Home, and I’ve been revisiting that scene in my current work-in-progress.

As migration to Oregon increased in the mid-1840s, the Army decided it needed a fort at the eastern edge of the frontier to protect the western settlers and to provide them with a supply station. The first fort was named after an early explorer, Col. Stephen Kearny, who scouted the area along the Missouri River near what is now Nebraska City, Nebraska. He recommended that a fort be built in that place, and the Army constructed the first Fort Kearny in 1846.

Soon after the fort opened, however, the Army realized the location was not suitable. Settlers passed either south of the fort from Westport, Independence, or St. Joseph in Missouri, or north through what is now Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska.

But almost all the emigrants to the West followed the Platte River, which became known as the Great Platte River Road. So the Army began scouting for a new location for the fort in September 1847.

Lt. Daniel Woodbury described the site he selected as follows:

“I have located the post opposite a group of wooded islands in the Platte River . . . three hundred seventeen miles from Independence, Missouri, one hundred seventeen miles from Fort Kearny on the Missouri and three miles from the head of the group of islands called Grand Island.”

The timing of the scenes in my novel is not exact, because I have my wagon company encounter the surveyors of the new site in May 1947, several months before they arrived.

Moreover, the replacement fort itself was not built until June 1848, when soldiers from the first fort arrived at the new location. The wooden buildings of the new Fort Kearny were built that summer.

By the summer of 1849, Fort Kearny was a mecca for the western travelers needing more supplies for the journey. On June 2, 1849, Lieutenant Woodbury wrote:

“Four thousand four hundred wagons have already passed by this post—nearly all destined for California. There are four men and ten draft animals to each wagon—very nearly. Many, not included above, have traveled on the other side of the Platte and many more are still to come on this side. The post is at present very poorly prepared to give to the emigrants the assistance which very many have required even at this point so near the beginning of their journey.”

Thus, the fort grew in importance as a supply station. By 1850 regular mail service had begun, along with a stagecoach route from Independence to Salt Lake City.

In the mid-1850s, hostilities between the Native Americans and the emigrants increased. Soldiers from Fort Kearny provided protection to the wagon companies. But by the mid-1860s most of the conflicts were farther west, and with the advent of the transcontinental railroad, there was less need for an Army presence. The Army abandoned Fort Kearny in 1871.

Ft. Kearny reconstruction, photograph by Chris Light, from Creative Commons

Later, the fort buildings were torn down and the land made available for homesteading. What exists at the site now is only a reconstruction of the fort.

As a side note, one of the interesting aspects of writing historical fiction is how the author should spell geographic names. For example, the name Fort Kearny is spelled as I’ve typed it, without a second e. But the town named after the fort is Kearney, with the second e. The reason? The fort was named after an Army officer named Kearny, but a later postmaster consistently misspelled the name as Kearney.

In my work-in-progress, I have recently been writing a chapter that takes place near Scott’s Bluff, Wyoming. The early settlers were divided on whether to spell it with or without the apostrophe. I chose to use the more accurate Scott’s Bluff because the location is named after a man named Scott (not Scotts). However, the National Park Service adopted the name Scotts Bluff. And the nearby town in Wyoming is Scottsbluff—all one word.

I don’t always choose the most historically accurate name. In my novels, I’ve called a more western fort along the Oregon Trail Fort Laramie, though it was called Fort John in 1847 when my fictional wagon company passed through (and had been called Fort William even earlier). But for the convenience of the modern reader, Fort Laramie makes more sense.

I’m sure some of my readers wonder why I’ve chosen the names and spellings I have. There is usually a reason, though sometimes I am just wrong.

When have you been surprised by some aspect of history?

A Story I’ve Rarely Told: The A Minus Incident

I’ve mentioned before that I was one of several valedictorians of my high-school class. The six of us all had 4.0 GPAs.

A 4.0 was as high as one could get in our high school—all A grades (A+, A, A-) counted as 4 points. There were no deviations for pluses and minuses, and there were no extra points for AP or Honors classes. (In fact, the school didn’t have separate AP classes, though it offered the tests.) And, in addition, the school only counted semester grades—quarter grades were shown on report cards, but not used in calculating GPAs.

My junior year of high school was my hardest, as it is for many students, then and now. I took six courses—Honors English, U.S. History, Chemistry, French 4, German 3 (straight from German 1, I skipped German 2), and Russian 1. I had no free periods for studying, and I had homework in most of these classes most nights. But through the second quarter, I had all As, and I even had an A+ in Chemistry.

My father at about this era, early 1970s – you can see how stern he could be

For the third quarter, ending in the spring sometime, I brought home a report card with an A- on it and no A+s. I can’t remember which class the A- was in, but I remember my father’s frowning response when he saw the report card.

“You should do better than this.”

We had several dinner discussions about how an A- could be improved.

I’d been disappointed in my grades that quarter also, but I recognized that it wasn’t the end of the world. I’d have to be sure that nothing slipped further in the last quarter of the year to retain my class ranking, but I knew that this report card wouldn’t impact my GPA.

Still, I was angry and hurt at my father’s reaction. This was the man who was chastising me—the guy who got a D in Algebra?

My father’s lack of early scholarship was part of our family’s lore. My mother—also valedictorian of her high-school class—dated and married her classmate who got a D in Algebra the first year she knew him. His problem wasn’t capability, but in his early teens my future father suffered from a poor attitude and failure to do the assigned work.

Somehow my father turned it around (probably my mother’s doing) and later earned a Ph.D., but still . . . his history was that of a D student, which I knew full-well. He shouldn’t be complaining about an A-.

I hid a lot of tears that spring.

Many years later, just a few months before he died, my father and I spoke about the A- incident. My pique still showed.

“I was too hard on you,” he said, “wasn’t I?”

“Yes,” I told him.

At his funeral two years ago this week, his former secretary told me, “Your dad was awfully strict with you kids. I remember when he complained about an A- you received.” So the story had made it to his office. “I told him he shouldn’t give you such a hard time. Wasn’t I right?”

I chuckled and said I’d told him the same thing.

Like my father, I know I was hard on my kids. They were (are) smart and usually were good students. Even though I was strict, as they went through high-school and college, I tried to keep my perspective about their grades, remembering the A- incident with my father. I think I was relatively calm about grades, though I lost my cool about many other things—assignments not turned in, papers forgotten, and disciplinary failures. I’m sure they could describe many times when I overreacted.

I wonder which of my failures they will try to eliminate from their parenting behaviors, should they have kids someday.

When has a memory from your childhood impacted how you parented?

Mid-Continent Public Library ReadLOCAL Initiative

I wrote last week about National Library Week, and I announced that the Mid-Continent Public Library was now offering my books, Lead Me Home, and Now I’m Found. This week I want to tell you about the library’s new ReadLOCAL initiative, which MCPL announced last week.

As I’ve written before, I’m a big proponent of the Read Local movement to promote local authors. I’m one of the administrators of the Read Local KC Facebook group and I’m also involved with Hometown Reads Kansas City. These groups are working to connect authors and readers in our community.

Now, the Mid-Continent Public Library has taken the Read Local philosophy one step further—they’ve curated a special collection of books by writers who live within the library’s service area.

As the MCPL website says about their collection,

“ReadLOCAL encompasses a vast range of writing styles and genres—from mysteries and westerns to juvenile nonfiction and healthy cookbooks. Books in the ReadLOCAL collection stem from various publishing backgrounds—self-published, hybrid published, small press, and large or traditional publisher (with the odd New York Times bestseller sprinkled in)—and have all been published within the past few years.”

And I’m pleased to say that they have put my two novels in their ReadLOCAL collection.

I encourage all readers in the Kansas City area to browse through books in the MCPL ReadLOCAL collection. Just one more reason to appreciate your local library.

And keep coming back to this MCPL site, because more books and more writers will be added over time!

What programs are available to support local authors in your community?

Falling In—Two Tales from Chesapeake Bay (or thereabouts)

I’ve written before about spring vacations our family took when our kids were small—how I struggled to find a church in which to celebrate Easter and how I had to hide the Easter candy from my children. One memorable trip over Easter was a week in Virginia when the children were in grade school. We started in Norfolk, flying there on Good Friday to spend the Easter weekend, before traveling on to Williamsburg and Roanoke.

My husband’s friend from his U.S. Naval Academy days was assuming command of a submarine based at Norfolk, and on the Saturday after we arrived, we attended the change of command ceremony. When I’d packed for the trip, I’d been thinking southern and spring. I’d been thinking warmth. But such was not the case. That Saturday was cold and blustery. It had rained or was raining—I can’t remember which—but the ground was wet. My daughter and I wore our Easter finery—spring dresses and fancy shoes. We had only light spring sweaters to break the wind.

USS Montpelier prepares to moor at-Naval Station Norfolk (U.S. Navy photo)

Among the events available on base to celebrate the occasion was a tour of the submarine shortly after the ceremonial reading of orders. So after eating our punch and cookies, we stood in line on the dock alongside the submarine, shivering as we waited our turn to board. Finally, it was time to step onto the top of the submarine. My daughter’s shiny new patent leather shoes slipped, despite the non-skid surface. She almost tumbled into the harbor waters of Chesapeake Bay.

My husband caught her arm and hauled her to safety.

But that was the end of her interest in a submarine tour. She wanted no further part in the ceremony, at least not in any part that took place outside. So she and I went to sit in the cold rental car (at least it was out of the wind), while my husband and son walked through the submarine.

My son came back raving ecstatically about everything he’d seen—bulkheads and warheads and mess halls and bunks. My daughter didn’t care. She just wanted to go back to the hotel and put on her jeans. I have to say, I agreed with her.

Rowing on the Potomac, though not in a pair

By a strange twist of fate, about a decade later my daughter rowed crew for Georgetown University. At some point during her freshman year, she was assigned to row a pair with a teammate. A pair is a boat with only two rowers, each using only one oar. So there is only one oar on each side of the boat—an inherently unstable proposition when practiced by beginners.

The two Georgetown rowers promptly fell into the Potomac River—the northern arm of that same body of water that my daughter had narrowly escaped in Norfolk. They were soaked in cold, not-too-clean water.

But now grown to college-age, she laughed as she told us the story. And I don’t think that was her only dowsing in the Potomac in the four years she rowed for Georgetown.

I guess she developed better coping skills in the ten year period after her Norfolk experience.

What near catastrophes do you remember from childhood vacations?

Libraries Transform—Celebrate National Library Week, April 9-15, 2017

This week, April 9-15, 2017, is National Library Week. It’s a time to celebrate libraries and library workers and to promote library use and support. According to the American Library Association website, the theme for National Library Week this year is “Libraries Transform.”

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for public libraries. I remember many trips to the library in my hometown when I was a child. When I visited my grandmother in the summer, she took me to the library near her house so I could check out a stack of books to keep from being bored between trips to the beach.

Later, I was the “library mom” for my kids when they were each in first grade—I checked books out of the library to take to their classrooms every few weeks. And I enjoy libraries now as places to meet with other writers, to hang out in between appointments when going home is inconvenient, and to write when there are distractions at home.

As for being “transformed” by libraries, I think it is fair to say that I wouldn’t be the reader—and therefore the writer—that I am today if I hadn’t spent so much time in libraries as a child. Over the years, I’ve used the books I’ve checked out of libraries to learn and to escape. Books let me experience the world as it really is, as the ideal it should be, and as the fantasy I sometimes wish it were. Most evenings, I choose to read instead of watching television—even when I can stream programs I like. There’s something about using my imagination as I read that visual experiences like television and movies can’t duplicate.

The library I use most frequently now is the Mid-Continent Public Library (MCPL).  It has many branches throughout the Missouri side of the Kansas City region. I also have library cards with the Kansas City Public Library (KCPL) and with the Johnson County (Kansas) Library, because I’m in those libraries often enough that I might want to check books out there.

All three are excellent library systems. I live midway between two MCPL branches, and the system has many other branches throughout the part of Kansas City in which I live. I’m at some branch almost every week. And I check out most of my ebooks through the MCPL Overdrive system.

Kansas City Public Library parking garage

The KCPL system has a beautiful branch in downtown Kansas City which offers excellent literary and historical programs for readers, and it also boasts an art gallery with changing exhibits, often related to Kansas City history. Another KCPL branch near the Plaza shopping that is a great place to hang out. Both branches have nice coffee bars also.

And I have regular meetings in the newly renovated meeting rooms at the Johnson County Central Resource Library. If it had a coffee bar, I might even be tempted to move to Kansas.

All three libraries, as well as the Olathe (Kansas) Public Library, have recently joined their catalogs. So now I can link my three library cards and search on one site to find books anywhere. I still have to check them out of the library where the book is located, but the combined catalog makes my searches much easier.

I’m also pleased to announce that the Mid-Continent Public Library has acquired my two novels, Lead Me Home and Now I’m Found. The Olathe Public Library already had a copy of each book, so now they are available on both sides of the Kansas/Missouri state line. I’m most pleased when readers buy my books, but I’m thrilled when people read them—however they find a copy.

So, those of you in the Kansas City area who have not yet read my books, now you have no excuse! (Unless all copies of the novels are all on hold at the library.)

How have libraries transformed you?

A Tale of Two New Computers

I wrote in January 2013 about having to replace two computers and an e-reader within a few short months. Four-and-a-half years later, I’m in a similar situation. After replacing my husband’s and my cell phones last December and our printer in February, I am now in the middle of upgrading our two computers.

The keyboard and a USB port on my old laptop—the sweet little laptop that produced my two novels—were going bad. The computer worked fine with an external keyboard, but it wasn’t reliable as a true laptop any longer. And I worried that if the one remaining USB port stopped working, I wouldn’t be able to back up my data to the external hard drive.

Meanwhile, the desktop my husband uses has become painfully slow, despite a full overhaul last summer. Booting up takes forever. I click on the Quicken icon and can go downstairs for a Diet Coke before the program loads. My husband has tolerated this glacial speed, but I can no longer stand it.

The time has come. These machines have done yeoman’s work. They deserve a rest. They deserve another home with someone who will appreciate them the way I no longer can. So in March I ordered two computers.

My new laptop arrived—a 13-inch convertible HP Spectre with a touchscreen, tons of RAM, and a solid-state hard drive. It’s essentially a souped-up version of the little laptop that has been my partner for the past several years.

New laptop

I love the device, but I hate the set-up. I’ve had the new laptop almost two weeks now, and it still doesn’t operate the way I want. I can do most things, but finding files I moved to its hard drive takes a little work (mostly because I’m trying to organize my data more rationally than on the old laptop). Even programs aren’t always where I expect them to be.

I’ve switched to Microsoft Office 365. I don’t like subscription plans for software, but Microsoft sets their prices so that the 365 plan makes the most sense financially if you have more than one device you want to load Office on. Plus you get tons of cloud storage. Thankfully, this version of Office looks enough like the old that I can type. But I had to install the custom fonts I used on my novels again, and I’m not sure I have them all yet. I’ll need to inspect everything before I can format my new novel to look like the others in the series (though that is months down the road).

I’ve downloaded Scrivener and Evernote and my backup software. I’ve loaded the Kindle and Nook apps and made Chrome my default browser. But I found out that my photo editing preference—Picasa—is no longer available. So that was a huge disappointment, until I moved it from my old computer to the new one (it’s working at this point).

The backup software I’ve used with my external hard drive to back up continuously doesn’t work on this laptop. The software that backs up hourly seems to work fine, but not the continuous backup. Western Digital can’t explain why, though they have offered telephone assistance, which I have yet to take advantage of.

Recently I had to use the laptop without the external keyboard and mouse, and I realized I’m going to have to make some changes in the trackpad.

Every day I find a new issue.

But even more frustrating than my set-up issues on the laptop is that HP lost the new desktop I ordered for over three weeks. I ordered it on March 17, and it was supposed to ship on March 20 and be delivered on March 24.

When there was no update to my order status page by March 25, I filed a complaint. I was told the computer had shipped on March 24. When several days later my order status page still said it would ship on March 20, I emailed HP again. I was told it would be shipped by April 6.

No change.

On April 7, I called HP’s customer service line. I was not given a firm ship date, but I was given a discount off the purchase price. Then finally, on April 8, I had an email from HP stating that the desktop had shipped. I now have a FedEx tracking number, and my order status page says the computer should arrive on April 11.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that I’ll have to go through the whole set-up process again. With my husband breathing down my neck (like he did the last time), wondering why it doesn’t work exactly like the old one. In addition to all the issues I described with the laptop, it will have Windows 10 instead of Windows 7, so it will look very different to him. But I bet he’ll be happier with its speed.

We are so reliant on technology these days. And yet, have things changed that much from when the horseless carriage replaced the wagon? We still have to fight our new devices and we lose productivity while we figure them out. We have the entire knowledge-base of the world at our fingertips, and yet a mechanically malfunctioning key can keep us from entering the password that allows us to access this knowledge. That was never a problem with the encyclopedia on the bookshelf.

What do you hate most about replacing a computer?

On Birthdays and Memory

Sixty years ago today was my first birthday. I was too young to remember it, but there is a fuzzy photograph of me in a high chair with a cake bearing one candle in front of me. I was the oldest grandchild on my mother’s side of the family, so I’m certain my first birthday was a big occasion.

Family lore says that I stuck my fingers in the flame and got burned. That happened to most of the kids in our family—I’m surprised my parents didn’t learn better over the years. A one-year-old does not know that candles burn. I was more careful with my own children.

Although I can remember some things from a very young age (see here and here), I have no specific memories of my birthday until my sixth birthday when I was in the first grade. Or maybe it was my seventh birthday when I was in the second grade.

My mother arranged a daisy-themed party. I have no photographic evidence of this daisy party, but I know it was my first birthday party with friends beyond family members. I had a party in the second grade that I remember well, but I think I had a party in my first grade year also, and I think that’s the daisy party I recall.

My mother made invitations and taped plastic daisies to them, then we sent the invitations by mail. I felt very grown up to be entering society with written and posted invitations requesting “R.S.V.P.”

My mother was very much in control of this party. Daisies were one of her favorite flowers, not mine. The entire party involved daisies. In addition to the invitations, there were daisies on the table, more plastic daisies on the name cards at each place setting, we played a game of pin the petal on the daisy, and so forth.

I did get to choose the cake. I chose angel food. I usually wanted angel food, whenever I got to choose. I love the airy sweet texture of angel food cake. My mother typically covered it with whipped cream and pineapple frosting, though sometimes she left it plain and served fruit compote on the side. Angel food was one of the few cakes my mother made from scratch. She preferred making pies to cakes, and most of her cakes were from boxed mixes. Though she also made German chocolate cake (my father’s favorite) and pineapple upside down cake (my brother’s favorite) from scratch, so she was capable of some fine cakes.

Even though I have no memories of my early birthdays, I know that birthdays were important occasions in our family. Birthdays were so important that we also celebrated half birthdays with half cakes. So it surprises me that my early memories don’t include my birthdays. But they don’t.

That is the way of memory. We cannot decide how to fill the filing cabinet in our mind. Why certain things remain in our heads and others disappear forever is a mystery. Is it because certain physical synapses connect in our brains, triggered by later events? Is it because some traumas sear us irrevocably and cannot be dispelled? Is it because some scenes get repeated as family lore and institutionalized in our minds? Probably all of the above. Our memories make us who we are, yet we have no control of which we keep and which we lose.

Which is the earliest birthday you remember?