In addition to putting the finishing touches on Forever Mine this month, I have also made a few updates in Lead Me Home, the first novel I wrote about travel along the Oregon Trail. These two novels both involve characters traveling in the same wagon company in 1847, so part of my challenge was making sure the plots jibed. One of the advantages of self-publishing is that I can make updates on my own when necessary.
In Lead Me Home, I had two of my fictional characters, Mac McDougall and Captain Franklin Pershing, referring to maps from the Frémont explorations of the West. In the initial printing of Lead Me Home, I wrote that Captain Pershing had been on Frémont’s 1843 expedition, in part because there is evidence of Army personnel accompanying Frémont that year—a small artillery unit hauled a field cannon for Frémont in 1843. The personnel on the 1842 expedition consisted primarily of fur trappers and other mountain men.
However, the maps created by Charles Preuss and published by Frémont with his report actually depict the 1842 exploration, which more closely followed the route that became the main Oregon Trail. Therefore, as I drafted Forever Mine, I made the decision to change my references to Frémont so that my fictional character accompanied the explorer on his 1842 journey. It’s more important to have the Frémont route accurate than that I match the personnel on the expedition.
Then, so that my two novels about the 1847 wagon company would mesh, I updated Lead Me Home to change all references to the 1843 Frémont journey to 1842. Now both books refer to Frémont’s travels in 1842.
While I was at it, I made a few smaller changes to Lead Me Home. One change that might interest readers relates to pheasants. In the initial publication of Lead Me Home, I referred to the men in the wagon company shooting pheasants. One astute reader told me that he didn’t think there were pheasants in the United States in 1847, because they had not yet been imported from Asia. That was one fact I hadn’t thought to check—I grew up around pheasant hunters, so surely the birds must have been there in 1847!
But a little research proved me wrong.
Although McFarland Pheasants, Inc., reports that pheasants were brought to North America in 1773 (other accounts put the date at 1733), the birds did not survive well in the rugged new continent. Pheasants were not successfully introduced to the western United States until 1881.
“On March 13, 1881, around 60 Chinese ring-necked pheasants arrive in Port Townsend [in Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula] aboard the ship Otago. United States consul general Owen Nickerson Denny [and his wife] . . . shipped the pheasants, along with other Chinese birds and plants, from Shanghai in hopes of establishing a population in their home state of Oregon. Most of the pheasants succumb as they are transported from the Olympic Peninsula to Portland. A few survivors are released on the lower Columbia River, but accounts differ as to whether this population survives. However, the Dennys ship more pheasants in 1882 and 1884, successfully introducing ring-necked pheasants into Oregon’s Willamette Valley and on Protection Island in Jefferson County near Port Townsend. The colorful game birds prove prolific and popular. Ring-necked pheasants spread throughout Oregon and Washington and are introduced in states across the country, becoming so common that they seem more a native species than one first established in the United States in 1881.”
It’s an interesting coincidence that, although I was wrong about when pheasants were introduced, they were in fact introduced into Oregon and Washington—the part of the nation I wrote about in my novels.
When have you been corrected about some odd historical fact?