The Rifleman, Wagon Train, The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Rawhide, The Virginian. I grew up on those TV shows. I had a knife, fork, and spoon set with Hopalong Cassidy on the handles. It was something leftover from my brothers.
I had a shiny metal gun with a wooden looking handle that fit into a fancy tooled leather holster, and I fed a roll of cap paper into it so it would make a sharp bang when I pulled the trigger. And I had the felt cowboy hat and matching leather vest.
At the bottom of my toy box I had a leather band that wrapped my head and contained dyed feathers in the most outrageous colors. It came with a tomahawk. The wooden handle contained more of those colorful feathers and the blade end was made of rubber. I wasn’t allowed to throw it, probably because of the handle. I also had a rubber knife and I wasn’t allowed to throw that either.
The other thing I wasn’t allowed to do was scream while I was playing. It scared my mother and she feared for my life. That roll of paper caps had to last, so most of the time I didn’t use them. We merely shouted bang-bang. And the Indian always had to fall. No one ever wanted to be the Indian. The Indians were always the bad guys and they always got shot. The cowboys were the victors.
I was six years old when I saw my very first Native American. He was Navajo, and he wore jeans and a regular shirt. My mother wanted to kill me for I looked right at him and asked if he were a real Indian. He frowned and my mother apologized to the man. I had no clue why she was upset with me. This man, who probably wasn’t much more than twenty years old, mesmerized me. At that young age, I knew he was handsome and so completely different from the blond men in my family. Yet he wasn’t wearing buckskins or feathers. He didn’t look like the Indians on TV – he looked like a regular man only darker with beautiful dark hair and a lock that fell across his forehead. I can still see him clearly in my mind.
That encounter made me very aware that what was portrayed on TV wasn’t very realistic. At the tender age of six, I learned an important lesson about stereotyping. And I began to look for books that contained real stories of Indians. Unfortunately there wasn’t much available and soon my fascination waned. It lay dormant for years.
When I started seriously writing, my first stories, which have never been released, are about a young girl whose father and aunt are Native Americans. That tale sent me scouring the web for information. It also opened my eyes to things I never knew about our Native Americans.
How could I write about the west and not include our Native Americans? There are plenty who still live on the reservations, and many more who live down the street, work for local companies, send their children to the neighborhood school, take the family skiing over the winter holiday, and have never attended a powwow in their life. When I wrote A Snowy Christmas in Wyoming, I made the hero tall, dark, handsome, and a Crow. Why a Crow? The reservation is nearby.
The back-story in that book goes all the way back to the Coleman family who settled in Wyoming in the late 1840’s. But when readers began to ask for the diary, I had to seriously start researching the history of Wyoming and the Crow tribe. I’m hoping to have that book out before the end of this year.
Debra Holland knew I was working on the Diary of Clare Coleman when she asked me to be part of her Sweetwater Springs Christmas anthology. I was allowed to use my own characters, but since Debra’s story is set in 1895, I had to use the grandson (Frank) of Clare and Jessie Coleman. That prompted a new round of research into the history and clothing of the time period.
Writing for the anthology set off another story. A Rancher’s Woman should be available by the 18th of this month. It’s about a young woman and her growth from victim to independence, and a Crow Indian who wanted to do more for his people by establishing a ranch on the reservation. It’s the story of his hardships and prejudices that he faced along the way, and the feeling of living between a white man’s world and his heritage as a proud Crow. It was a time when the only good Indian was a dead Indian and it was illegal to marry anyone of color. Yet, in spite of the problems, their love continued to grow.
You know me, I can’t write a fluffy romance. I’m glad I picked the Crow tribe when I started writing because the more I learn about the tribe; the more I respect and love them for their amazing heritage. This isn’t a whitewashed Victorian story. Instead, it’s a glimpse of real western life in the late 1890’s. A man caught between two worlds who had fallen in love and the woman who loved him. I promise, love has nothing to do with the color of our skin or our social status. I dare you not to fall in love with this wonderful, intelligent, proud, and brazen Native American.