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?

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?

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?

Writing Milestones: Journaling and Blogging

I don’t want March to get away from me before I write about two milestones that occurred this month—the fifteenth anniversary of when I began keeping a journal, and the fifth anniversary of this blog.

My original journal. The picture at the top is my new journal cover, which I had to buy when the original leather cover became tattered.

I’ve written before about starting my journal. One of my early posts on this blog was titled “Take the Plunge—Start a Journal.” That’s what I did—I had bought myself a Christmas present of a pretty leather journal cover and three blank narrow-ruled notebooks to put in it. It sat in my drawer for a few months, until one day in March 2002, I took the plunge and started writing.

That month was a turning point in my life for many reasons, though I didn’t know it at the time. I suppose most fifteen-year periods in my life have been equally eventful, and some have been more stressful, but the last fifteen years—close to 25% of my life—have been challenging.

On the personal front, I’ve seen my children grow from teenagers to responsible adults. One child graduated from college, and has since had six jobs, more than six different addresses, and the same girlfriend for the past three years. The other child has graduated from high school, college, and law school, has lived in D.C. and two states, and has also had more addresses than jobs. In these fifteen years, I’ve also grieved the loss of a grandmother, both parents (one slowly, one fast), and a father-in-law.

On the career front, the last boss I chose to work for quit during March 2002—the month I started journaling. A new boss was appointed several weeks later. I was already wrestling with whether I should retire four years later in 2006 when I turned fifty. In those four years, I had two and a half different jobs (I worked on a special assignment for several months, hence, the half) and had three and a half different managers (same reason for the half manager). I dealt with corporate politics in ways I never had before.

I did retire at the end of 2006, and for the past decade I’ve been devoting my primary effort to becoming a novelist. So on the writing front, I mark March 2002 as the beginning of my career as a writer, because my journal started me on the path to writing, even if I didn’t take myself seriously at the time.

My journal has helped me stay grounded through all these changes. It has helped direct my life. I’ve debated a variety of courses of action in its pages, often repeatedly. When an issue keeps raising itself for discussion, it’s a sign I should change something. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t, and sometimes I continue to debate what to do.

I didn’t write daily in the first few years. But since I retired, I have written almost every day of every year. I’d bet there are only 10-20 days in the entire decade that I have missed. In fifteen years, I have filled fifty of those narrow-ruled notebooks—160+ pages each, about 300 words per page, or roughly 240,000 words. The equivalent of two to three novels.

And, oh, by the way, I’ve published three novels, am well into a fourth, and I’ve written many essays, short stories, and poems, some of which have won contests and been published.

And I’ve written this blog. I really began Story & History in January 2012, but I didn’t start posting weekly until March, so I consider that to be the anniversary of the blog. (I increased my posts to twice a week later that year—a schedule I’m amazed I’ve been able to continue for so long.) So in my mind, this is the month I have completed five years of blogging.

While my journal is my private musing, this blog is where I muse more publicly. As readers know, I muse about all sorts of things. Enough to have written well over posts. I write another blog under my pseudonym, which I’ve also kept up for about five and a half years. Between the two blogs, I estimate I’ve written about 375,000 words in the past five years. That’s another three or four novels’ worth.

I guess I have to say I’m a writer now. And take myself seriously. I often wonder if I should be spending my time journaling and blogging, or if I should focus on moving more novels from my head to the page. But as long as my journal directs me, and as long as blogging connects me to others, I will probably continue.

Does writing help direct your life? Have you tried it?

Guest Post on Wayne Turmel’s Blog

Last Friday, March 24, I was a guest on Wayne Turmel’s blog. He introduced his interview of me with the following comment:

“The opening of the American West is great fodder for writers of historical fiction. Huge vistas, dramatic action, and characters who lived just long enough ago that they don’t feel foreign to us.”

How true that is!

Wayne asked me some very interesting questions in the post, including one I hadn’t been asked before—what my favorite scenes were in Lead Me Home and Now I’m Found. Go read the post to find out my answer.

Wayne writes historical fiction centered on the Middle East. He has written two novels, The Count of the Sahara and the recently released Acre’s Bastard, as well as a number of nonfiction books. Like me, Wayne is a member of the Hometown Reads community, though he is based in Chicago and I am in Kansas City.

I hope you’ll take a look at my post on Wayne’s blog. And while you’re there, check out Wayne’s books also.

What era of history interests you the most? Why?

Elizabeth Markham: One Woman’s Perspective on the Oregon Trail and on Matrimony

I am surprised that in five years of writing this blog I have never written a post focused on women’s perspectives on leaving their homes and journeying west on the Oregon Trail. I’ve written about specific women—Narcissa Whitman, Jessie Benton Fremont, Elizabeth Dixon Smith, Keturah Belknap, and others—and quoted some of their words, but I’ve never focused on how they felt about making the trek in the first place.

I’ve thought about this theme a lot, first as I researched and wrote Lead Me Home, and now as I’m writing another novel about other characters in that same wagon company. For the most part, the women did not want to leave home. They only went because their husbands or fathers insisted.

In my current work-in-progress, one woman is pregnant with her ninth child. She left her family’s farm in Missouri to follow her husband’s wanderlust. This woman’s teenage daughter mourns the loss of the friends she left behind. Another woman in the wagon company is accompanying her bully of a husband, who believes he’ll have a better life—while her life is likely to be harder in Oregon. Another character who lost all her children in Illinois left their graves behind her forever.

On and on the women’s stories go. Each mourns people and places they will never see again.

Abert Beirstadt, Oregon Trail

And on the journey, they cooked over campfires instead of in brick ovens. Their meals were made with limited provisions and what they could glean along the trail. They washed with river water almost as muddy as the clothes, unless it was left to sit and settle. Their family members suffered illnesses such as cholera or yellow fever or pneumonia. Or they were injured in wagon or gun accidents. Or they drowned or were snakebit or suffered some other calamity.

No wonder the women viewed the land so harshly. No wonder some of them went mad.

Elizabeth Markham was one such woman. On September 15, 1847, as they traveled along the Snake River (see the photo of Shoshone Falls on the Snake at the top of this post), Elizabeth told her husband Samuel she would not go on any farther. After some argument, Samuel took their five children and their wagons and left her behind. Later in the day, he sent their son John back to get his mother. Hours later, Elizabeth caught up to the wagon—alone. She said she had beaten John to death with a rock. Her husband went back for the boy. Stories vary as to whether John had been injured or not, but he lived. Samuel brought his son back to the rest of the family, only to find that Elizabeth had burned one of the wagons.

The rest of the story is that the Markhams’ traveling companions put out the fire, and the family did reach Oregon. They later had two more children. Their youngest child, Edwin Markham, became an acclaimed poet. The Markhams ran a store in Oregon City, but Samuel and Elizabeth later divorced, and Samuel set out for California alone. Elizabeth also later moved to California, remarried, and was divorced again.

Like her youngest son, Elizabeth was also a poet—the first published woman poet in Oregon. She had a poem published in the Oregon Spectator on June 15, 1948, less than a year after her episode on the Snake River. It reads:

A Contrast in Matrimony

The man must lead a happy life,
Free from matrimonial chains,
Who is directed by a wife
Is sure to suffer for his pains.

Adam could find no solid peace,
When Eve was given for a mate,
Until he saw a woman’s face
Adam was in a happy state.

In all the female face, appear
Hypocrisy, deceit, and pride;
Truth, darling of a heart sincere,
Ne’er known in woman to reside.

What tongue is able to unfold
The falsehoods that in woman dwell;
The worth in woman we behold,
Is almost imperceptible.

Cursed be the foolish man, I say,
Who changes from his singleness;
Who will not yield to woman’s sway,
Is sure of perfect blessedness.

Her note at the bottom of this poem in the newspaper read: “To advocate the ladies’ cause, you will read the first and third, second and fourth lines together.”

[Try it . . . The first stanza then reads:

The man must lead a happy life,
Who is directed by a wife
Free from matrimonial chains,
Is sure to suffer for his pains.]

This isn’t great poetry, but I have to marvel at the way she crafted two poems in one. And I have to wonder what Elizabeth was thinking as she wrote this multi-faceted poem—to which view of marriage did she subscribe? After her experiences on the Oregon Trail, did she think man better off with a wife or not? Given that both her marriages ended in divorce—still uncommon during her lifetime—I conclude she was fairly sour on the institution of matrimony.

What do you think of Elizabeth Markham’s poem?

A Neophyte (Me) Develops a Website

My new website, http://www.TheresaHuppAuthor.com, has been live for a few weeks now. Regular readers might have noticed that I’m still tweaking things—the background, colors, etc. But I thought I would recap what I’ve learned as I developed this site.

My decision to develop my own website, rather than continue with my Story & History blog on WordPress.com, was only the first of many decisions. I knew I wanted a website built on WordPress.org (the WordPress platform for self-hosted sites), thinking that because I was familiar with WordPress.com, I could learn WordPress.org fairly easily. The decision to build my website on WordPress.org narrowed some other decisions, though the options were still legion.

I relied heavily on WPbeginner.com, which has many articles and videos that I found very helpful. Anyone wanting to build a website on WordPress.org should check this site out.

1. Which company will host my website?

There are countless hosting sites available these days. Some are free. Most cost a small amount each month—or more, if you want more options, such as backup service, greater online support, etc.

As I researched designing websites built on WordPress.org, I learned that WordPress recommends two hosting services—Bluehost and SiteGround. I was also familiar with GoDaddy through another organization I’m in. There are other comparable services, so do your own research and get recommendations from friends before you commit.

I compared the hosting services I knew of. In the end, I went with Bluehost, in part because they were offering a slight discount when I was ready to buy, and in part because they received excellent reviews for their customer service and support.

So far, I have had to consult the Bluehost technical support once. The Bluehost chat representative who helped me was reasonably prompt and quite courteous. I hope I don’t need them often, but I’m encouraged that my first experience was positive.

2. What theme will I use?

Once I set up my account through Bluehost and downloaded WordPress.org to my new site (yay! I have a website!), the next step was to select a theme that would aid in designing my site. Strictly speaking, this step is not necessary, and I could have designed everything from the ground up in WordPress. But, as the title of this post says, I am a neophyte. I wanted the comfort of a template to get me going.

I had researched many themes before I started, reading lists of “best themes for authors” and “best themes for small businesses” and the like. I had probably looked at demos on about thirty different themes. I decided I wanted a theme that supported both a static home page and a blog page. Most themes do, but I also wanted support for e-commerce and portfolio displays. I’m not planning to sell my books through my website now, but someday I might choose to. And I like the look of portfolio sites and thought I might showcase my book covers that way (though so far I have not used that option).

In the end, I elected to use the Vantage theme by SiteOrigin. My primary motivation was that SiteOrigin also developed the PageBuilder plug-in that WPBeginner said was the best free page design tool for WordPress.org.

So I downloaded the Vantage theme and PageBuilder, and blithely began to design my website. Vantage has a free version, and that’s what I’m using now. I might upgrade to the premium version in the future, but at the moment I am overwhelmed enough.

3. What pages do I want on my site?

I had given this some thought prior to actually building the site. I knew most of the pages I wanted, and I knew what content I wanted on each page, though I had not written the text yet. I wanted a welcome message on my home page, a blog page where I would import my posts from Story & History and continue writing new posts, a page for each of my novels, a bio, a contact page, and a few extras for readers and writers. I’d looked at many author websites, and those seemed to be the standard features.

So then I started designing. My ideas changed a bit as I worked. I came up with some new ideas. But having an overview in mind before I started was a big help.

4. How the heck do you use PageBuilder anyway?

I finally got the slider on my News & Events page to work!

PageBuilder was not as intuitive as I had expected. It operates with modules, and offers a wide variety of modules, including text blocks, image blocks, sliders (for slide shows), contact pages, social media links, action buttons, and others. But which modules work best for which purposes?

I spent a couple of weeks experimenting. And countless minutes during those weeks going back and forth between one menu and the next trying to find what I wanted.

I never did get the masthead built the way I envisioned, and ended up creating the image I wanted in Canva, then loading it into a header widget. (If that last sentence doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry about it.)

What that slider looks like in PageBuilder

Over those two weeks, I felt I learned PageBuilder pretty well. I learned to design my rows, put in spacers where I wanted them, add the text and image widgets I wanted, and move the widgets around until the pages looked close to what I wanted.

5. How do I import my blog?

I found instructions for how to move a WordPress.com blog to WordPress.org, and I followed the instructions. But nothing happened.

I tried again. Again, nothing happened.

Then I found instructions for how to make sure that my WordPress.org taxonomy (how posts are named) matched the post names on my WordPress.com blog. I changed my taxonomy, and tried again. About twenty of my 500 posts transferred. I tried again. About twenty more transferred.

And so on. Finally, I had all my posts on the new website.

I asked the WPBeginner people if this was common, and I was told that if the blog is big and has lots of photos or other attachments, then, yes, it can take a long time to import everything

6. Will I keep my subscribers?

I think the answer to this is yes, but I can’t honestly be sure. All the old subscribers show up in my WordPress statistics, but I can’t be sure what readers are seeing. My regular readers seem to have found the new site, but some people who used to comment on the WordPress.com blog do not seem to have followed me.

In addition, the new site no longer ranks as high on Google searches as my old blog did. I think Google must give priority in their rankings to WordPress.com—a priority my humble domain TheresaHuppAuthor.com doesn’t receive. I’ve noticed that some of my posts linked to Google+ do show up on the first page of search results, and clicking on those does get me to the new website.

I’m still linking to social media sites, so over time, I hope people will find me and that this issue becomes minimal.

7. How do I upload new posts?

I launched the website on a Wednesday. I had until Monday to write and upload my next scheduled post. I draft my posts in Scrivener, then copy and paste to the site.

I’ve found that blogging on WordPress.org is a lot like blogging on WordPress.com was five years ago when I started. I’m familiar with how it works, but WordPress.com is much more intuitive now, and I’ve had to remember my old checklists and where things are located, to make sure I get a post ready for publication—categorizing the post, adding tags, scheduling the post for the right day and time, etc.

And I wasn’t sure how to use featured images. I’d never bothered with those in on my blog—I’d just let WordPress.com decide what image to feature. But I didn’t want my website masthead showing up as the featured image all the time, so I now have to specify another image. Which puts that image at the top of the post. Which means that readers will be seeing a lot more large images at the top of my posts in the future.

8. What don’t I know?

There are things I know I don’t know, and there are things I don’t know I don’t know. In the former category, are the following:

  • Everything to do with the hosting service—cPanel and FTP and PHP—acronyms that I can’t even translate.
  • Whether and how to use email on the server or continue to link with my Gmail account.
  • What ongoing maintenance I will need to do.
  • What the best way to back up the site is—I am backing it up regularly, but is it worth it to pay for a backup service?
  • What additional functionality should I add with plug-ins and widgets?
  • What could I do with e-commerce that would be as easy and profitable as Amazon’s online fulfillment and royalty payments?

In the latter category—what I don’t know I don’t know—you’ll have to tell me.

This has not been an easy process, and I’m not totally satisfied with the result at this point. I’m open to suggestions.

Readers, what changes to my website would you like to see? Please leave a comment or contact me. Nothing is too small to suggest—fonts, layout, whatever you’d like to see me do differently.