Upcoming Title: ‘A Black Woman’s West – the life of Rose B. Gordon’

A Black Woman’s West: The Life of Rose B. Gordon, by Michael K. Johnson, 256pp, will be released on April 22 by the Montana Historical Society Press. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon. As a member of the society, I look forward to the release of important new books by the MHS Press.

From the Publisher

Born in the Barker mining district of central Montana Territory, Rose Beatrice Gordon (1883-1968) was the daughter of an African American chef and an emancipated slave who migrated to the West in the early 1880s. This book tells the story of the Gordon family―John, Anna, Robert, Rose, John Francis Jr., George, and Taylor―and pays tribute to Rose, who lived most of her life in White Sulphur Springs. In her youth, Rose excelled academically and distinguished herself as a musical performer. As an adult, she established her economic independence as a restaurant owner, massage therapist, and caregiver. She also made a place for herself in the public sphere through letters to the editor and eventually through a regular newspaper column for the Meagher County News―a remarkable undertaking at a time when Black women in America were largely denied a public voice. As a Black woman in the West, Gordon’s life was ordinary in terms of its day-to-day struggles but extraordinary in its sum.

Editorial Review

“The story of a single life, well told, always amounts to more than the sum of its parts. Critically, Johnson allows the lives that Rose Gordon and her family led in White Sulphur Springs to stand on their own. But through Rose’s story, he recovers a much wider history of Montana’s society and culture that is seldom told. As a book meditating on race, belonging and the meaning of home, A Black Woman’s West has much to say to all students of Montana and Western history.” – Anthony W. Wood, author of Black Montana

Author

Michael K. Johnson is a Professor of American literature at the University of Maine at Farmington. His previous works include Black Masculinity and the Frontier Myth in American Literature, Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos: Conceptions of the African American West and Can’t Stand Still: Taylor Gordon and the Harlem Renaissance.

Malcolm

Briefly noted: ‘The Civilian Conservation Corps in Glacier National Park, Montana’ by David R. Butler

“Another major experiment which affected Glacier was also to affect many other national parks. The program was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and was called the Civilian Conservation Corps. In 1933, almost immediately after this program’s enactment, young men from all over the United States were organized into work crews in camps in national parks and forests. Responding to the Depression economy and vast unemployment, Roosevelt intended this labor to enhance the conservation of natural resources while providing a livelihood for indigent young men. Nationwide, over a thousand camps organized by the Army employed some three hundred thousand young men, and in Glacier, some sixteen hundred enrollees arrived and eight camps were established in 1933.” – C. W. Buchholtz in Man in Glacier, 1976, Glacier Natural History Association

Those of us who became addicted to Glacier National Park over half a century ago, learned more about the park by reading books and monographs published by the former Glacier Natural History Association, for which I was a volunteer, that drew on the expertise of those whom I consider the first generation of modern-day park historians including Jack Holterman, Clyde Lockwood, Curt Buchholtz,  Michael J. Ober, and others. For today’s generation, I should add David R. Butler (Fire Lookouts of Glacier National Park) to that evolving list for providing another readable chapter to the park’s knowledge with the current volume released by Arcadia Publishing in February.

From the Publisher

“The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), one of the most successful of all New Deal programs, was heavily involved in creating and improving the infrastructure of Glacier National Park. Between 1933 and 1942, a total of thirteen CCC camps were located on both sides of the Continental Divide that bisects the park roughly from north to south. CCC-I.D. (Indian Division) camps also existed along the eastern edge of the park on the Blackfeet Reservation. CCC “boys” were employed in fighting forest fires and clearing areas of burned trees, clearing brush and debris, sawing logs, creating trails, building fire lookout towers, constructing Park Service buildings, assisting with bridge construction, and building phone lines to connect east and west sides of the park. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited in August 1934 and gave one of his famous radio “fireside chats” from the park, in which he praised the efforts of the CCC in helping improve the country’s national parks. Chapters examine CCC camp life, the nature of the work carried out by the CCC boys, structures built in the park by the CCC, and FDR’s visit.”

In his April 6 review for the Hungry Horse News, Chris Peterson wrote, “You can’t drive into the west entrance of Glacier National Park without seeing the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps. They not only replanted the entire surrounding forest, they built the entrance station itself.”

And yet, most of today’s visitors come and go without knowing of the tremendous influence of the CCC on all aspects of the park, second only to the work done by the Great Northern Railway’s hotel company. I’m very pleased to see this new book by Butler (who’s been in the park almost as long as I have) who sees it with a professional vision and love of history.

The book will have an impact on you because the more you know about Glacier National Park, the more you love it and understand the constant hard work it has taken–and will continue to take–to preserve it.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell writes fiction set in the park. Unfortunately, his only nonfiction contribution is out of print.

Why don’t more people know what stuff is?

Yesterday, I mentioned those Facebook memes in which an old appliance is displayed and people are asked if they know what it is. Dial telephones, can openers, cassette tapes, paper cutters, all kinds of office, kitchen, and workshop stuff. I’m amazed at the number of people who don’t know what it is.

Do you know what this is?

Most of the stuff shown was common as “recently” as 20 years ago. Some things are actually still around. If people aren’t using those things now, they would have seen them in their parents’ houses while growing up. Or in old movies and clips from old TV shows. Maybe I show my age when I say this, but anyone who’s watched a western movie or TV show will even know what a lot of objects are that were common in homesteads and ranches a hundred years ago. (Shows like “Little House on the Prairie” and “Medicine Woman” are, for example still running in syndication, showing us the tools and appliances from a hundred years ago.)

How about this?

Perhaps those Facebook memes are phony and everyone and their brother knows what the stuff is. Perhaps so much new stuff is coming on the market, it’s harder to remember what was around 20 years ago. Perhaps fewer people watch old movies and old TV shows these days and don’t see the objects in those memes in use. Maybe the people who watch documentaries on the History channel (where there’s a lot of old stuff) aren’t on Facebook and never see the memes.

Or, do fewer and fewer people care about the past–and all the stuff in it–because today’s issues are occupying all of our attention? The impression I’m getting is that fewer people these days are aware of recent history, much less old office, and kitchen appliances.  What do you think?

Have we lost our love affair with times gone by and all the stuff people used in those days?

Curiously,

Malcolm

 

 

 

Always waiting for factory fresh books

“They” say that Scots and those of Scots ancestry are cheap. “They” might be right since we’re part of that group who spends both sides of every penny.

Bookwise, this means that unless a book is on my “MUST HAVE IT RIGHT NOW” list, I’m going to wait for the trade paperback, or even the mass market paperback, edition of books I’m waiting for. Oddly, these days the paperback version might be more expensive than the hardcover.

I do the same thing with movies because trying to set up closed captioning at a theater is a who needs it, so I seldom see any film before it reaches TV with closed captioning. I guess this is just part of getting old. By the time I read a book or see a film, the discussion has moved on to something newer. Sigh.

So, while waiting for the cheapest edition of the newer books, I’m constant grabbing books off my shelves and reading them again. (I think that if I read it two or three times, that cuts the cost by 1/2 or 1/3 and gets me into less trouble with my wife for sneaking books into the house.)

Yes, there’s Kindle, but that’s not my thing. I read stuff off the screen all day, so that’s the last thing I want while reading for 30 minutes before going to sleep.

Right now, I’m re-reading another Jeff Shaara novel, Gone for Soldiers, about the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846 while we fought over just where the southern border of Texas was going to be. Many of the soldiers who became well known during the Civil War fought in this war.

Sometimes historians call the Korean War the forgotten war. One might say the same thing about the Mexican War. It falls into one of those gaps in our history lessons in school. I’ve always found history interesting, so this is an enjoyable book to read while waiting for the John Hart novel I ordered from B&N.

What about you? Do you hold out for the cheaper editions of new novels or do you say, “what the hell?” and buy them as soon as the hardcover edition is released?

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Special Investigative Reporter.

 

 

 

‘The Founding Fortunes: How The Wealthy Paid For and Profited From America’s Revolution’

In times of war, the rich usually do get richer and the poor are still poor, yet free. Somewhat.  This well-researched telling of the well known and not so well known who put their money into biting the very hand that was feeding them. In order to have control over what they grew and who they sold to this young country and its leaders were far from perfect and often put their own interests above the country.

Source: THE FOUNDING FORTUNES: How The Wealthy Paid For and Profited From America’s Revolution by Tom Shachtman ‹ Pirate Patty Reviews ‹ Reader — WordPress.com

I love reading history, especially carefully written books that are intended for a general audience and don’t sound like PhD dissertations. So, I’m pleased to find one of my favorite book bloggers writing about a history book–and tempting me to take a look at it.

While this blogger’s reviews are usually short and sweet (or, as needed, caustic) I wish this review had had a little more depth, possibly showing a list of chapter titles and/or an example a founding father or two who got rich.

We can often give readers an idea of a novel with a review that sounds like a positive or negative elevator pitch. But I think nonfiction requires a bit more, in part because if your blog isn’t dedicated to history, most readers won’t be familiar with the authors and may need a little more pizazz to grok both the review and the book under consideration.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Calendars with historic black and white photographs

In our kitchen, we keep a colorful scenic calendar, sometimes featuring wildlife and sometimes featuring scenes from national parks and other inspiring landscapes. In my den, I always have a calendar of historic black and white photographs. It comes with my membership in the Montana Historical Society (MHS). These old photographs tell many stories and I never tire of looking at them throughout the year. As more and more archives are digitized, pictures such as those in the calendar are often available for research online. Here’s the cover of my MHS calendar for 2019:

Hmm, we seem to have a problem here. When I worked as a volunteer at a railway museum, our library included a lot of photographs of wrecked locomotives. One of our members had once worked on steam locomotives for the railroads. When I asked him what happened to the locomotives in the pictures, he said they hauled them into the shop, fixed them, and put them back on the line. Today, I suppose the insurance company would come out and mark the equipment as totaled.

These old pictures are better than rare treasure for history enthusiasts; fans of (for example) trains, old cars, historic buildings; teachers who are working on lesson plans for K-12 classes that focus on state history, authors, and others. The national park services has an archive of old photographs.

You can find other photographs online at the Library of Congress and in the archives of many states under such names as Florida Memory and Georgia Encyclopedia. (Some of these sites include teacher lesson plans.) This access has improved from the old days when one had to travel to a museum on the far side of the country to see roughly classified boxes of papers and photographs in a storage area. Likewise, the historical societies in many states also support the digitization of old newspapers, many of which are appearing in databases sophisticated enough to allow for searches on words in the news stories and photograph cutlines.

Here’s a sample from Florida Memory of the kind of resources available for teachers.

It bothers me when I hear that many state school systems no longer teach state history lessons. I know it’s often hard to squeeze in local history when courses must include all of world history or all of U.S. history into an hour a day for one or two semesters. Historic old pictures, when available in a print format, give school systems the opportunity of placing a few of them in frames (with captions) in hallways and classrooms. They might just attract student attention. My wife once curated and mounted an exhibit of old photographs in a high school where we used to live. Opening day attracted a lot of attention, including a news story in several papers.

I’ve been happy to see many of these old pictures showing up on Facebook, sometimes from sources such as “Smithsonian Magazine” that remind people of lesser-known events and people. Many of them get a lot of LIKES and comments, including “Why wasn’t this information in my school history books?” (I often wonder why as well.)

If you know about your state’s history, I think you have a better shot at understanding why things there are as they are. You can also help combat misinformation in hastily researched news stories and online essays in which the writer clearly doesn’t know what happened in his or her state prior to last week. Growing up in Florida, I constantly saw (and still see) mistaken pronouncements about the reasons for the Seminole Wars or about the conflicts between Spain and France to control the region. You can probably cite similar examples from the state where you live.

Old photographs won’t fix the gaps in our educational systems, but they might attract some attention to the many things we don’t know about the places where we live.

Malcolm

Sometimes I think historical research for my novels set in Montana (“The Sun Singer” and “Sarabande”) and Florida (“Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Lena”) took more hours than writing the novels. I didn’t mind because the old photographs and newspapers were very addictive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: ‘Barracoon’ by Zora Neale Hurston

Barracoon: The Story of the Last Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a shame that this book had to wait so many years to find a publisher. But we finally have Cudjo Lewis story. In her beautiful foreword, Alice Walker writes that “I’m not sure there was ever a harder story to read than this…” I agree. The story is unique in many ways: Cudjo, whose real name was Kossola, tells a story that includes his life in Africa and his life during the “Middle Passage” voyage to the United States after the slave trade was banned.  Most histories don’t include life in Africa or on the slave ship.

His story is dear because he wanted to tell it and because Hurston was a skilled anthropologist and knew how to collect stories. The story is dear because you can feel its truth in your bones; Hurston did not intrude herself or her perspectives into the narrative. And then, too, Curjo speaks in his own English dialect and that adds great depth and reality to the tale. We hear that Hurston couldn’t publish the book when she wrote it because the publishers wanted her to get rid of the dialect. I didn’t find it to be a problem even though a fair number of Amazon reader reviews say the dialect was hard to read. No, it wasn’t.

Cudjo has some traditional tales of his own to tell. These appear an appendix so that they won’t disrupt his story about being captured by blacks, placed in a barracoon (slave house), sold to whites, and then having to endure many days at sea before ending up at a plantation where he was expected to work. The experience seems incomprehensible to him. So, too, is the fact that once he’s set free, he has no money and no land, so where is he supposed to go?

Deborah G. Plant has done a fine job editing the material and writing an afterword and a glossary that place Cudjo’s story in perspective. Readers have a choice because the editor’s comments were placed in this separate section rather than being distributed throughout the narrative as lengthy and jarring footnotes. As such, you can read the story and then look at the added material–or simply read the story as a lover of Hurston’s works and/or oral history.

Cudjo’s story is filled with great loss, great wisdom, and–strange as it may seem–more humor than anger for a man torn away from the country of his birth and forced to live and work and endure a hard existence in a country where he was never whole again.

Malcolm

View all my reviews

How a writer sees locations for prospective stories

In How to be doomed as a writer, I mentioned that author Stephen King prefers to look at story possibilities as situations rather than plots.

Over time, a writer becomes attracted to certain kinds of settings and the kinds of situations that might occur there. I’m attracted to natural wonders, especially mountains, as well as old buildings. My novels The Sun Singer and The Seeker both arise from a natural wonders setting, Glacier National Park. When I contemplated writing about the park, my first thoughts were about the kinds of things (situations) that might happen there. My Kindle short story “Moonlight and Ghosts” came to mind when I looked at an abandoned building near the house where I grew up.

Suppose you’re in a writing class and the instructor shows you the following picture obtained from the Florida Division of Historical Resources. All you’re told is that it’s an old and restored opera house in a small north Florida town.

PerkinsOperaHouse

Perhaps the instructor has influenced your brainstorming about this picture by showing you the building on a sunny afternoon with cars along the street. If s/he had shown you a photograph of the same structure as it sat on a moonlit night with the trees missing leaves during December, you’d come up with a different set of situations.

  • If you’re a fan of TV police shows, perhaps this looks like a place where a crime is committed.
  • If you’re drawn to opera and/or to theater, maybe you’ll think of stars, set designers, directors, little theater groups, professional “theater people” or amateurs coming together to put on a play that somebody hopes will fail.
  • Maybe there’s a secret about the building, some old legend or a will uncovered in a dusty attic that describes how, when the building was constructed, several hundred bars of gold were hidden beneath the box seats.

This picture gives you a very different feeling about the building.
This picture gives you a very different feeling about the building. – Florida Division of Historical Resources.

Okay, I’ve withheld some information, so with a few more facts, are your prospective story situations the same or do you change them?

  • The Opera House, which consists of a large second-floor theater and first floor shops, was built in 1880.
  • Traveling productions, including vaudeville groups, put on shows at this theater for a number of years. But then, when the railroads re-routed their lines and there was no easy way for out-of-town visitors to get to town, the theater fell into disuse.
  • Ghost hunters claim the owner died of a broken heart and still haunts the now-restored building. Purportedly, the former owner has been “seen” by the ghost hunters and a glowing orb of light.
  • The building is now used as a venue for weddings, local-area stage productions, and other functions where a seating capacity of 600 is desired.

If your instructor asked you to write a short story about this building, would you see it as just a building where anything might happen, a setting for a theater-oriented tale filled with clashing egos and temperamental stars, or would you try to link the local legends and the history of the building into your story? The only catch is, the instructor will expect you to convey–one way or another–a sense of the building. So, it can’t be a generic structure.

Well, unless you know the building already and/or are a historic preservation specialist, you’rre at a disadvantage when you try to describe it. If I were the instructor, I’d have several information sheets prepared as handouts.

  1. Those who wanted to use the building as a place setting would get a general description of the interior and some architectural information about the architectural style of the building, it’s size, etc.
  2. Those who wanted to use the location for a theater-oriented story, would receive information about the stage, the seating, the lighting, and the dressing rooms.
  3. Those who didn’t know yet what was going to happen but wanted real background, would be told about the building’s history and the ghostly legends.

What do you see here?

Interior as it looks now. - The Florida Center for Instructional Technology, University of South Florida photo.
Interior as it looks now. – The Florida Center for Instructional Technology, University of South Florida photo.

In a classroom exercise, you’re “research”–if you think any is needed–is limited by what you see in the photograph and what the instructor will tell you either in a lecture, a question and answer session, or via handouts. Since I am attracted by legends, especially paranormal stories, I’m going to see this as a place where something ghostly will happen.

How you tend to view real locations, whether they’re lakes, mountains, buildings, or city streets, will influence what “your muse” draws you to consider. Your inclinations may suggest that the instructor should have had several more handouts about the building. One might be how the building is used today. Another might be the kinds of businesses on the first floor and on adjacent streets.

As writers, we look at locations as places where something might happen or where something did happen. Whether you like tying in real history and legends or whether you see locations in terms of what’s happening there in the present day, once you’re attracted to a setting for who knows what reason, story situations may come to mind as you Google (or go to) the setting.

When I first saw pictures of this building, my first thought was, “Good, here’s a cool old building in the Florida Panhandle where I’ve been placing many of my recent stories.”

As I learned about the building–its history, its ghosts, its restoration–ideas began to float around for prospective stories. As this process unfolds, we may never write a story…unless we’re in a classroom and have no choice. If a story comes out of it, the setting was the catalyst and the result was a marriage of the real and the writer’s imagination.

Malcolm

P.S. If the actual building intrigues you, you can learn more about it here.

Briefly Noted: ‘Fire Lookouts of Glacier National Park’

Fire Lookouts of Glacier National Park (Images of America), by David R. Butler, Arcadia Publishing (June 9, 2014), 128pp, photographs.

I’m happy to see the release of David R. Butler’s new book about Glacier National Park’s fire lookouts. Several years ago, in Heavens Peak Fire Lookout Assessment Open For Comments, I mentioned the developing plans to refurbish the historic fire lookout on Heaven’s Peak. David told me that most of that work was completed in 2012 and that his book includes before and after pictures. This is good news.

firelookoutsFrom the Publisher: The first fire lookouts in the Glacier National Park region were simply high points atop mountain peaks with unimpeded views of the surrounding terrain. Widespread fires in the 1910s and 1920s led to the construction of more permanent lookouts, first as wooden pole structures and subsequently as a variety of one- and two-story cabin designs. Cooperating lookouts in Glacier Park, the Flathead National Forest, and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation provided coverage of forests throughout Glacier National Park. Beginning in the 1950s, many of the lookouts were decommissioned and eventually destroyed. This volume tells the story of the rise and fall of the extensive fire lookout network that protected Glacier National Park during times of high fire danger, including lookouts still operating today.

From the Book: “Fire lookouts are described by many writers as magical places, and are well-known as inspirational sites for writers and poets such as Jack Kerouac, Normal Maclean, and Gary Snyder, as well as environmental writers and naturalists such as Edward Abbey and Doug Peacock. They also serve as nostalgic, historical reminders of a simpler time before the Internet, wireless communication, and the widespread use of advanced technology for spotting and monitoring fire boundaries.”

A small percentage of hikers and climbers see the nine remaining lookouts (a few of which are still in use) in Glacier, sticking to the more well-known trails, saddle trips and launch trips. For those who have never seen the lookouts, the photographs in this book open new worlds. For those who know, or who would like to more, Butler brings us another chapter in Glacier’s colorful history.

Update: Arcadia is offering the book at 20% off through Father’s Day 2014. Here’s the link.

You may also like:  Researcher documents history of Glacier’s fire lookouts in the Great Falls Tribune.

Malcolm

BearsWhereTheyFoughtCoverMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of three contemporary fantasy novels (“The Seeker,” “The Sun Singer,” “Sarabande” set in Glacier National Park as well as his non-fiction “Bears; Where They Fought,” a historical look at Glacier’s Swiftcurrent Valley.

Book Note: ‘More Montana Moments,’ by Ellen Baumler

moremontanamomentsHistorian Ellen Baumler (“Montana Moments: History on the Go,” April 2012) returned six months later with another book of Montana vignettes originating from her “History on the Go” radio program in Helena, Montana. Published by Montana Historical Society in October 2012), the 220-page book is available on Kindle and in paperback is aptly titled More Montana Moments.

The cover art, “Laugh Kills Lonesome,” comes from Charlie Russell. The text is supplemented with illustrations.

From the Publisher

Forget dreary dates and boring facts. More Montana Moments serves up a fresh batch of the most funny, bizarre, and interesting stories from Montana’s history. Meet the colorful cast of the famous and not-so-famous desperadoes, vigilantes, madams, and darned good men and women (and a few critters) who made the state’s history. Best of all, each vignette takes about two minutes to read. So have fun exploring Montana—and enjoy a little history as you go.

From the Montana Historical Society Bookstore

When Evelyn Cameron first rode into Miles City in the dark blue divided riding skirt she had ordered from California, oh, the scandal it caused. Ellen Baumler tells that story and more in More Montana Moments, a collection of more of the most funny, bizarre, and interesting stories from Montana’s history.

From the Book

“Artist Charles Marion Russell carefully chose the subjects of his art based on personal experience. He, more than any other western artist, painted what he knew with great longing and nostalgia for the cowboy way of life he lived and loved so well. In 1925, a year before his death, Russell painted “Laugh Kills Lonesome,” a tribute to this vanishing cowboy lifestyle…He painted himself into the picture as an old cowpoke stoppping by the warm and friendly circle fo a cup of coffee by an a hearty laugh at the end of a long day in the saddle.”

You can keep up with Ellen Baumler at her Montana Moments site.

Malcolm

Set in Montana, Malcolm R. Campbell’s contemporary fantasies include “The Seeker.”