Cowboys and Indians

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, andA Snowy Christmas in Wyoming 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 3c30192rCrow 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 lib of congress Crowheritage. 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.

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9 Responses to Cowboys and Indians

  1. Tori Scott says:

    I had most of the same toys as a child, bought when we visited several Indian reservations during our cross-country travels. Then I had a boyfriend in high school who was half Cherokee. He was the most beautiful guy I had ever seen, and smart to boot. He triggered my interest in Native American culture (and my love for the song Indian Reservation by Paul Revere and the Raiders.) Like you, I had to write a book with Native American characters, though mine is contemporary rather than historical. One of these days I’m going to do a series with Native Americans set in the 1700’s.

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    • E. Ayers says:

      I’d love to read a NA book based in the 1700’s, but oh the research! A local tribe spent about 2 years working with reps from Disney . Seems they ignored everything and wrote Pocahontas the way they wanted. I’m still looking for those cliffs along the James River where she went diving. Really? That type of thing makes it much more difficult for people like us to get answers when we’re digging for info. It’s so hard to stay historically accurate when we can’t get our questions answered.
      There’s a small river island near here that was the food storage area for the local tribe. Guess what our forefathers did? Killed the scouts who were protecting it and then took all the food. And we wonder why these people hated us?

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  2. monarisk says:

    My experience with cowboys and red Indians was only through movies. I used to cry when any one was killed. Even when my parents said he was a bad guy, I kept crying. So bad or good, I didn’t like people dying and grew up hating, the bang-bang-boom movies. Now I enjoy the way authors tweak their stories and make characters with different background more realistic.

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    • E. Ayers says:

      Some of that old stuff was very violent. I can remember seeing stuff that gave me nightmares for weeks. I think it was the Lone Ranger that changed to a not-so-violent format.

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  3. Carol says:

    One of my ancestors, way back, was a Cherokee Indian Chief. I need to go back and find that info. One of my grandmothers was 1/3 Cherokee Indian. I could probably write some interesting stories based on things I’ve heard. You were like me, a tomboy! I always wanted my brother’s toys, what little he had. Okay, you ladies are making me hunger for a Western book in my books to write.

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    • E. Ayers says:

      My mom was forever trying to make a lady out of me. I had a prissy big sister – why would I want to emulate her? Oh, the things I did. No fear! Plus our neighborhood was dominated with males. I never bought into that idea that guys were smarter. Bull patties!
      Even as a teen, when I did finally stop climbing trees, and started acting and dressing like a female, I would never have described myself as a woman until I hit the bottom of the list of things that I was. To me, what went on between my ears was much more important than my curves. Having a healthy body was important. I think I’m still that way I’m a thinking human being first, and foremost! it just happened to be packaged as a woman. i wish I had that body back! LOL

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  4. leighmorgan1 says:

    I am fascinated with Native American history. The allure is timeless, I think, not only in the West but also for the eastern tribes, many of which no longer exist. Even as a young girl that fascination with the Wisconsin tribes was real; the tribal exhibit in the Milwaukee Public Museum was my favorite, right along with the “Streets of old Milwaukee”. There’s an open air fort, Fort Snelling, that is in Minnesota that serves as a working museum from the days when the Sioux were active and predominant in the mid-west, and I still can’t visit without weaving tales in my head of great cross-cultural romances that must have happened then. When I was really young, maybe 4 or 5, they had a Native American (then called an “Indian”) in full headdress with leather leggings who jumped from one standing rock pillar to another, at Wisconsin Dells. It was scary and so stereotypically offensive, not to mention dangerous, but it was a huge attraction then.

    I’m looking forward to reading your stories.

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    • E. Ayers says:

      Do you remember the TV anti-pollution commercial with that famous Indian, Iron Eyes Cody? He was rowing down a garbage clogged river? Well, Iron Eyes wasn’t really a Native American. But he was adopted by a tribe – don’t remember which, and he gave a portion of his income to that tribe. He was the son of Italian immigrants. But he looked like a NA or the way we thought a NA should look. I give the man credit for embracing the NAs and working to bring acceptance of them.
      Native American is a new term and much more accurate! These people have a history that is so rich and amazing, yet it’s not taught in schools. The author, Rose Anderson, is well versed in the NA tribes in the lake area of the USA. She’s written two contemporary books based on a legend about their burial mounds. Maybe I can prod her into visiting us.

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      • And *poof* just like that, I’ve come visiting. 🙂 Hi everyone. Oh, I remember Iron Eyes Cody. That commercial did more for the environmental movement than any other.

        I have a background in historic preservation and living history and had the opportunity many years ago to learn hands-on old-skill lifeways of the Anishinabe (Ojibwe) people. It’s a fascinating culture.

        The area I live in lies between two huge ancient settlements Cahokia and Aztalan that have giant earthworks. While not as complex as the stone works of the Inca or Maya sites of Central and South America, they’re every bit the enigma. Mountains were literally built one basketful of dirt at a time. I’ve written a saga regarding the burial mounds near me and filled the story with historical and archaeolgical facts. Only a handful of burial and effigy mounds remain but there were once thousands. It’s a real shame. The Witchy Wolf and the Wendigo starts with this one sentence — What does an immortal Native American shaman do when the grave he’s sworn to watch over for all eternity disappears under urban development?

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