Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Grain of Truth or More? by Paty Jager

I attended a conference the end of October with writers of all genres. There were mostly workshops on poetry writing and finding more description, but I attended an evening event that had me giddy afterwards. That sounds a bit strange, but writers who go to a lot of trouble to research will understand my giddiness.

The event was a powerpoint production about a soldier who was General O.O. Howard’s aide during the Nez Perce conflict and who later went on to be one of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce’s greatest advocates. Author George Venn has published a book about C.E.S Wood, the soldier turned advocate. The power point production included highlights from his book.

Many of the points he told the audience about, I’d found in my research for Spirit of the Sky, my third book in the trilogy about the Nez Perce. This book followed their flight to freedom while being chased by General O.O. Howard. Listening to Venn talk about Lt. Charles Erskine Wood, I discovered, had I stumbled across more about him in my research, he could have been the catalyst for my hero, Lt. Watts.

Only Wood was married with five children and a philanderer, so he wouldn’t have made good hero material. But his advocacy for the Nez Perce parallels my hero’s passion to treat the Indians as people rather than a plague.

 Wood didn’t want to be a soldier; he wanted to be a writer and artist. He drew many scenes from the battles and the chase. He sent these drawing to magazines and newspapers in the East and they were attributed to “an Officer in General Howard’s Staff.” He didn’t want the Army to know who was sending the scathing depictions to the news.

 He also kept a journal and wrote of the atrocities he saw and the feelings of the men around him. While his sketches give a very clear view of the battles that were waged, his writings in some instances were a bit “colored”.

 When the war was ending and afterward, Wood helped Howard protect his reputation after having been thwarted for months by the Nez Perce, but helping his superior didn’t stop him from admiring the Nez Perce. He used this admiration and his skill at drawing to give the public a look at the life of the Nez Perce. In his writings, he praised the Nez Perce. After the surrender, he interviewed Chief Joseph and made drawings of the chief and his infant daughter sending those drawings along with other Nez Perce individuals to New York.

 Wood was the General’s aide who took down, or as some say, “wrote” the “Chief Joseph Surrender Speech”. It’s been suggested the first sentence was written as the soldier advocating for his General and the rest as a Nez Perce advocate. No one, including Joseph, ever clearly stated there was a “Chief Joseph Surrender Speech”. But on Oct. 5, 1877 Wood began to publish, recite and revise what today is known as the “Chief Joseph Surrender Speech”.

  “Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. The old men area all killed. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are, perhaps freezing to death. I want time to look for my children and seek how m many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more.”

In 1884 Wood published a full-length pro-Nez Perce story about the 1877 conflict titled “Chief Joseph, The Nez Perce”. Wood became friends with Joseph, and later when Joseph and his family were at the Colville Reservation, Wood sent one of his boys to spend two summers with Joseph.

 It is Lt. Wood seeing the Nez Perce as people and not savages or beasts that I gave my hero in Spirit of the Sky. My hero, Lt. Watts, begins the story with compassion and as he carries out his orders and comes to see the Nez Perce as contemporaries through the eyes and emotions of the heroine, he becomes their advocate inside the Army that is trying to make an example of the Non-treaty Nez Perce.

Blurb for Spirit of the Sky To save her from oppression, he must save her whole tribe. To give her his heart, he must desert his career… When the US Army forces the Nimiipuu from their land, Sa-qan, the eagle spirit entrusted with watching over her tribe, steps in to save her mortal niece. Challenging the restrictions of the spirit world, Sa-qan assumes human form and finds an unexpected ally in a handsome cavalry officer. Certain she is a captive, Lt. Wade Watts, a Civil War veteran, tries to help the blonde woman he finds sheltering a Nez Perce child. While her intelligent eyes reveal she understands his language, she refuses his help. But when Wade is wounded, it is the beautiful Sa-qan who tends him. Wade wishes to stop the killing—Sa-qan will do anything to save her people. Can their differences save her tribe? Or will their love spell the end of the Nimiipuu?

  Soldier to Advocate:C.E.S. Wood’s 1877 Legacy by George Venn
Hear Me, My Cheifs! By L.V. McWhorter


Anonymous said...

I got so excited when I read this blog! I'd like permission to forward it to my 4th grade teacher friends. They teach an entire unit on Chief Joseph each spring. I know some of them would really enjoy reading SPIRIT OF THE SKY too.

Alison E. Bruce said...

I don't know what excites me more, research justifying our narrative choices or hearing that our books are being recommended to teachers.

Well done Paty!

Paty Jager said...

Collette, you may forward this to teachers. George Venn's book would be a great addition to their curriculum because it has drawings and journal entries by Charles Wood.

Paty Jager said...

Hi Alison! Thanks! I try to stay as true to the history as I can when writing about the Nez Perce but having my empathetic hero actually have a counter part in real life, I just about bounced in my chair during the whole presentation. LOL I'd come across Wood in the books I read, but they didn't go into his life in detail. Just he was the aide to Howard and was present at Joesph's surrender.

LisaRayns said...

Yeah, that's pretty cool to be recommended to teachers. It looks great!

Tanya Hanson said...

I love this post, Paty. I have long admired both Lt. Wood and Oliver Otis Howard. Howard University, historic black college, was founded by O.O.
You might ask your publisher to market this book to American Lit high school teachers. The Fight No More Forever speech is usually part of the curriculum. Can't wait to read this book myself.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Yes, all historical writers can understand feeling "giddy" over a very meaningful workshop. I know you're pleased that your fictional hero closely parallels an actual hero (even though the real one had many flaws).

Paty Jager said...

My book wouldn't be read by the teachers to the kids. There is a huge romance in the story after all. LOL but it would be nice to have teachers read my books for the authentic live style of the Nez Perce.

Paty Jager said...

Tanya, Thank you for the good thoughts about the books, but my spirit books have love scenes and I doubt any high school teacher would be allowed to have kids read them.

Paty Jager said...

Hi Caroline, Yes, the flaws of the real one would not have made him so great of a hero, but the idea that what my hero does in the book did happen, though my hero writes up the heroine's stories and has them published in newspapers.

Ellen O'Connell said...

Wow, Paty, I never came across anything that interesting at a writers' conference. And yes I understand how you must have felt finding a real life counterpart to your own characters. Pulling my nose out of history and into my own writing today is one of the hardest parts for me.

Ellen O'Connell said...

Wow, Paty, I never came across anything that interesting at a writers' conference. And yes I understand how you must have felt finding a real life counterpart to your own characters. Pulling my nose out of history and into my own writing today is one of the hardest parts for me.

Paty Jager said...

Hi Ellen, Thank you for commenting. It was a conference for all genres and had several wonderful presentations on nonfiction books.

Ciara Gold said...

Gotta love meaningful workshops that inspire a writer's heart. Great post.

Paty Jager said...

Hi Ciara, Thanks!