Category Archives: Historical Novels

A Brief History of the Volga Germans

eunice-photoBack around 2012, when I first joined ‘Women Writing the West’, I somehow managed to start a correspondence with a fellow author in Kansas—Eunice Boeve. One might think that a romance author sitting in NYC and a predominantly YA and western author living out in KS had nothing in common, but Eunice and I have found a lot of common ground and continue our correspondence to this day.

Eunice was born and raised in Northwest Montana and Idaho, the middle child of seven born to a storytelling father and a book loving mother. She writes historical fiction novels for adults and young people, and for the past seven years has written a chapter story for a program called Newspapers in Education, from which her latest book, A Home in America, has evolved. Her books have received a number of awards, including a Kansas Notable book award. She lives in a small Kansas town with her husband and an aging red dachshund.

You can find all her books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and various other locations. Her website is: http://www.euniceboeve.net

Eunice has very kindly agreed to give away two copies of her book, A Home in America, to two people leaving a comment on this blog. And I’m pleased to announce the winners are Anne Schroeder and Colleen Donnelly.  Our thanks to everyone who left a comment!


Thank you, Andrea, for hosting me on your blog this month.

The history of the Volga Germans gives testimony to what the human spirit can endure, for they came to Russia and against incredible odds built a life from

Volga Germans

Volga Germans

literally nothing, but the ground under their feet. In 1763, Germany was in shambles, ravaged by seemingly unending wars and the demands of the ruling class, leaving the common citizen totally destitute. Then Catherine the Great of Russia offered land along the Volga River, free and clear with housing and horses and plows, and with no hope of a better life, they jumped at the Russian ruler’s seemingly spectacular offer.

But, when the first group arrived, there were no houses, no horses, and no plows. There was land, lots of land. But the nomadic tribes who had lived there for centuries considered it theirs. They swooped down on horseback, killing the men and capturing the women and children. With no place to go, no means to return to Germany and nothing there anyway, they stayed, and by sheer force of will, muscle, and faith, carved out a life on the Russian plains. That first winter, they dug caves for shelter with wagon boards for doors. These strong-willed people declined to interact with Russia in any way. They did not claim citizenship nor intermarry, but clung to their German language, customs, and religion as fiercely as they tamed the hostile land.

At first, they were promised freedom from the military, then Russia began to impose mandatory military service on males from sixteen to forty-five. With no feelings of loyalty to Russia, they felt no obligation to fight for the country, and many began to suspect that other demands would follow. With the idea of leaving Russia, they sent scouts to North and South America and these men brought back good reports of both countries, but favoring North America. Those who wished to immigrate and could manage the fares, left all they knew behind, sometimes even family members, and departed for the Americas.

Volga German Pioneer Memorial, Victoria, KS

Volga German Pioneer Memorial, Victoria, KS

Of those who did immigrate to America, many came to Kansas. Others settled in other states, including North Dakota, and Nebraska. For the most part, they kept together creating their own small towns. Those small towns around Hays, Kansas were given the names of the villages they left behind in Russia, like Herzog, Liebenthal. Pfeifer, Schoenchen, and Munjor, and, with the exception of Herzog, are still in existence today. Herzog is now Victoria. Settled by the English when the English left, the two towns became one. The fact that America is made up of a very diverse population, and English is the main language, made it almost impossible to exist in isolation as the entire Volga River Germans did for some one hundred plus years in Russia. So even the Volga German so steadfast in remaining German, began to mix with others, as have many other ethnic groups who came to this land we call America.


A Home in America, Book cover by Julie Peterson-Shea, published by Rowe Publishing  and available at http://rowepub.com/a-home-in-america/ and http://www.amazon.com/Home-America-Volga-German-Story/dp/1939054818/

   home-in-america-book-cover-image  A Home in America begins in the year of 1892, with Eva and her family living in the Volga River area of Russia settled by their forefathers from Germany in the mid 1760s. They have always considered themselves to be German and have kept their language and traditions, as promised them, along with being exempt from military service, when they settled this part of Russia. But 130 years later, Russia is disregarding those earlier promises and many, including Eva’s family believe they would be better off in America. Going to America, though, means leaving Great Grandmother behind. Great Grandmother, now old and blind, has been the only mother Eva has ever known, her own mother dying the day she was born. Father has remarried, but although she likes her stepmother very much, it is Great Grandmother whom she still considers her mother and she cannot bear even the thought of leaving this woman she has loved like a mother all her life.

This story began as a Newspaper in Education story and was featured in five Kansas newspapers for 8 weeks beginning Jan. 5, 2016, and told of their journey to America. The rest of the story chronicles their next year when they settle on a farm near Herzog (Victoria), Kansas.


 Excerpt

“After much thought and prayer,” Father says, “Great-Grandmother, Leah, and myself have decided it would be best for our family to leave Russia.” He pauses, then adds, “So next spring we will leave for America.”

I am so surprised, so shocked I think I could be knocked off this bench with a feather. Beside me, Great Grandmother bends her head in prayer and her fingers begin traveling the beads of her rosary, her lips moving in silent supplication. Fear clutches my heart as I realize how old, how feeble she has become. Will we leave her here, like Mia’s family will leave her grandmother?

I raise my eyes from Great Grandmother’s bent head and the rosary in her hands, to see if Father has noticed my fear and will reassure me with a smile, but he is busy answering Peter and Michael’s excited questions. Then I’m remembering this morning at the cow shed and how Leah had remained silent when I said I was glad we weren’t going to America and with a small jolt of anger, I turn to her.

Her brown eyes meet mine and they seem to ask for forgiveness, but I feel no forgiveness. She could have at least warned me! I close my face into a tight mask and blink back my tears and hold on to my angry thoughts so they do not become words. I know that Great-Grandmother cannot make such a long trip and I also know I cannot leave her. Then Great-Grandmother’s hand finds mine and my anger at Leah dissolves and I realize those words were not hers to tell, but Father’s.

A coldness settles over me as I listen to Father tell of the rumors growing stronger every day; rumors of Russia headed for war with Japan. And if they go to war, men and boys sixteen to forty-five will be called to fight for the Russian army. Peter will turn sixteen next summer, Father, who is forty, will have to go immediately. Michael at thirteen, nearly fourteen, is safe, but for how long? Wars can last for years.

Father says it was those same rumors of war that sent Uncle Johann and his family, to America and that we would have gone with them, but for Great-Grandmother. At his words, my anger, cooled, again rises up in me. Does Father think she can go with us now, even though she is now blind, and five years older?

 

 

 

 

 

Struggles and Hope During WWII’s Japanese Internment

shanna-3I’m so pleased to welcome back another pal from Women Writing the West, USA Today Bestselling Author Shanna Hatfield. Shanna writes character-driven romances with relatable heroes and heroines. Her historical westerns have been described as “reminiscent of the era captured by Bonanza and The Virginian” while her contemporary works have been called “laugh-out-loud funny, and a little heart-pumping sexy without being explicit in any way.”
Convinced everyone deserves a happy ending, this hopeless romantic is out to make it happen, one story at a time. When she isn’t writing or indulging in chocolate (dark and decadent, please), Shanna hangs out with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller.
Please connect with Shanna online. She loves to hear from readers.

Shanna is happy to offer two chances to win one of her books: one for a digital copy of Garden of Her Heart and the second for an autographed paperback copy of the book. I am pleased to announce that Hebby Roman has won the digital copy and Brigid Amos will receive the signed paperback.  Thanks to all who commented.


Thank you for welcoming me to your blog, Andrea. Such a pleasure to be your guest today.

Life for all Americans changed when Japan brought death and destruction to Pearl Harbor in 1941. The attack drew the United States into a war the nation had steadfastly tried to avoid.

History of the war years often glosses over the fact that thousands of people were placed in internment camps right here in America.

Thousands of German and Italian residents were detained by the government during the war, many at Ellis Island. However, the Japanese Americans bore the brunt of the fear and unrest that swamped the country following the devastation at Pearl Harbor.

Seventy-five years ago this month, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, on February 19, 1942. The order authorized the evacuation of anyone deemed a threat to national security from the West Coast to relocation centers further inland. More than 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent were detained in fifteen assembly centers in the spring of 1942.

Many of these people were born in America, some second or third generation Americans, but their place of birth became irrelevant in the coming days. Those living in the evacuation areas were forced to leave behind their homes, sell their possessions for mere pennies on the dollar, and abandon their businesses to report to assembly centers — or become fugitives in the land they called home.

Eventually, the government moved detainees to isolated, fenced, guarded internment camps located across the United States where the majority of the Japanese Americans stayed until the end of the war.

Research for the Hearts of the War series took me to Portland, Oregon, where I learned about the Portland Assembly Center. Originally, it was the Portland Livestock Exposition Pavilion. The government housed more than 3,500 detainees there under one roof during the summer of 1942 before they were sent to internment camps in California, Idaho, and Wyoming.

The stench of the manure trapped beneath the hastily constructed floor and flies buzzing everywhere added to the trying conditions, especially during the long, hot summer months. Meals were served in a mess hall in shifts. Privacy was nonexistent.

The “apartments” had just enough floor space for about five Army cots. Rough

Photo taken at Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in Portland, depicting life in the Portland Assembly Center.

Photo taken at Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in Portland, depicting life in the Portland Assembly Center.

eight-foot high plywood walls divided one family from another. With no ceiling, noises from adjoining families echoed day and night. Yet, in spite of the hardships and trials, gardens were planted, a newspaper started, classes taught, and hope sustained.

I tried to envision what it would be like to live there. To live in such difficult, challenging conditions when the only thing they had done “wrong” was to be born to a Japanese heritage.


What would it be like to be a faced with a choice of doing what your country ordered or what you knew in your heart to be right? Would you follow your heart? Would you forsake everything for love? Would you willing become a fugitive in the land of your birth to save a life?

garden-of-her-heart-coverThe moment the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, life shifted for Miko Nishimura. Desperate to reach the Portland Assembly Center for Japanese-Americans, she’s kicked off the bus miles from town. Every tick of the clock pushes her closer to becoming a fugitive in the land of her birth. Exhausted, she stumbles to her grandparents’ abandoned farm only to find a dying soldier sprawled across the step. Unable to leave him, she forsakes all else to keep him alive.

After crashing his plane in the Battle of the Atlantic, the doctors condemn Captain Rock Laroux to die. Determined to meet his maker beneath a blue sky at his family home, he sneaks out of the hospital. Weary and half out of his mind, he makes it as far as a produce stand he remembers from his youth. Rather than surrender to death, Rock fights a battle of the heart as he falls in love with the beautiful Japanese woman who saves his life.

A poignant, sweet romance, Garden of Her Heart proves love can bloom in unlikely places even under the most challenging circumstances.

Available on:

UBL:  http://books2read.com/gardenofherheart

Kindle: https://amzn.com/B01LYTC7IG

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1125098241

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1173687544

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/garden-of-her-heart

Audio: http://www.audible.com/pd/Romance/Garden-of-Her-Heart-Audiobook/B01N9ECC0U/

Paperback: http://a.co/aWqNawz

Large Print: http://a.co/iNmKvIF

 Here is an excerpt from the story:

Instead, her father stared at him and asked a single question.  “Describe Miko in one word.”

“One word, sir?” Rock asked, confused.

“Yes. If you summed up everything about her in one word, what would it be?” Jack’s face remained impassive as he waited for Rock’s answer.

Taken aback by his request, Rock’s thoughts splintered in a hundred directions. Only a few seconds passed before the word that floated through the maelstrom in his head gained clarity. “Hummingbird.”

Baffled, both Shig and Jack stared in confusion.

“Explain, please,” Jack said.

Rock took a deep breath. “Before I was wounded, I was stationed in Trinidad, off Venezuela’s coast in the southern Caribbean. The area is a big melting pot of combined cultures — Creole, East Indian, Chinese, African. A great diversity of flowers and shrubbery grow there, and it offers more than four hundred different species of birds. But do you know what they call the island?”

At the men’s interested looks, Rock continued. “Land of the Hummingbird. While I was there, I saw many of them. The islanders believe hummingbirds are symbols of all that is good and they carry joy wherever they go. Hummingbirds are fearless, determined, adaptable, and flexible. They possess the courage of a mighty lion and the magic of mythical fairies. Hummingbirds have boundless energy and endurance. Those little birds can make the most difficult journey seem like a simple matter, and they are loyal, devoted to the garden they claim as their own. They are fiercely independent, but those who accept that can long enjoy the beauty and wonder of those amazing little winged fellows.”

Jack’s mouth quirked upward and he bit back a smile. “So you’re saying Miko is like a demented bird who wants only to suck the sweetness out of life?”

 

A Fence Around Her: Double-jacking Competitions

brigid-amos-headshot Brigid Amos’ young adult historical fiction has appeared in The MacGuffin, The Storyteller, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Words of Wisdom. As a  playwright, she co-founded the Angels Playwriting Collective and serves on the board of the Angels Theatre Company. She is also an active member of  the Nebraska Writers Guild. Although Brigid left a nugget of her heart Continue reading

Native American Slavery

 

headFellow member of Women Writing the West, Alethea Williams is the author of Willow Vale, the story of a Tyrolean immigrant’s journey to America after WWI. Willow Vale won a 2012 Wyoming State Historical Society Publications Award. In her second novel, Walls for the Wind, a group of New York City immigrant orphans arrive in Hell on Wheels, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Walls for the Wind is a WILLA Literary Award finalist, a gold Will Rogers Medallion winner, and placed first at the Laramie Awards in the Prairie Fiction category. Continue reading

Delbert’s Weir: Hooking into Tradition

IMG_1286 2Fellow member of Women Writing the West, Carmen Peone has lived in Northeast Washington on the Colville Confederated Indian Reservation since 1988, gleaning knowledge from Joe, her tribal member husband, other family members and friends. She has worked with tribal elder, Marguerite Ensminger, for three years learning the Arrow Lakes-Sinixt- Language as well as various cultural traditions and legends. With a degree in psychology, the thought of writing never entered her mind until she married her husband and they moved to the reservation after college. She came to love the people and their heritage and wanted to create a legacy for her sons. Continue reading

SO YOU THINK WE HAVE FREEDOM OF SPEECH?

A few weeks ago I sought the web page for the NY Public Library, checking to see about opening hours for this magnificent building. What greeted me was a display of various books that had been banned or censored over the years, most of which were well known to me as an avid reader. What I didn’t know was that the last week in September is Banned Books Week, “Celebrating the Freedom to Read.” I wondered whether the freedom to read coexists with the freedom to write? Continue reading

TWO VIEWS ON THE OREGON TRAIL

When I was in school, Francis Parkman’s The Oregon Trail was on my reading list. At the age of thirteen, the formal writing and the lengthy, detailed descriptions of a time, scenery and people who did not in the least interest me, turned me towards another choice of book. So here I am, some fifty years later, with other interests, more tolerance, and certainly a more receptive mind.

Francis Parkman

Francis Parkman

Francis Parkman was born into an aristocratic Boston family, son of a well-connected and wealthy Unitarian minister. Plagued by illness most of his childhood, he was often sent into the countryside in an attempt to make him more robust. This, combined with his own enjoyment of James Fenimore Cooper’s novels, seems to have had a lasting effect on the young man whose walks in the woods always entailed carrying a rifle, just as his hero, Hawkeye, did. Continue reading

The Girls Who Civilized the Old West

0-3 B J (Bill) Scott is a novelist who sets his stories in the mid to late 19th century of the American West. He is the author of five books: The Angel Trilogy, Light On A Distant Hill, and the newly-released The Rail Queen. Continue reading

Cunning Inspiration: Dearest Darling and The Cunningham Cabin

20131018_155648Nothing takes my breath away quite so much as the landscape of northwestern Wyoming. If I say it leaves me speechless, you will understand how very difficult it is for me to relate the love affair I have with this small section of our vast country, how I feel no dictionary is complete enough to supply words to describe this patch of land where the earth has struggled like an indecisive artist to create high plains that stretch themselves into the harsh, jagged peaks of the Tetons. One can only feel reverence, one can only feel a minute speck in the vast panorama; it makes you realize how tiny and inconsequential you are in the scheme of things. So now, imagine how envious I am of those who are lucky enough to live there year-round compared to my two, comparatively brief stays each year. Then you can realize both the awe in which I hold those who homesteaded this unforgiving country and the jealousy I feel that they were able to live here. This is a land that gives you a sense of history, a sense of destiny. It is a geography of hope, forged by nature and hard won by man.

One of the men who would put his mark on this country was J. Pierce Cunningham. A fellow New Yorker, he arrived in the Jackson Hole area of the Tetons around 1885, aged about twenty. A few years later, he and his wife staked DSCN1349a claim under the Homestead Act, and thereby laid the foundations for what would become the Bar Flying U Ranch. The cabin they built, which under the Act had to be at least 12 x 12, was what is commonly known as a dogtrot or double-pen cabin, encompassing two separate rooms with a dogtrot or breezeway in-between. Although a more substantial home was eventually built, along with sheds, barns and other outbuildings, it is the original cabin that still stands today.

When I first visited Cunningham’s cabin I was immediately struck by the isolation of this remote location, how lonely it must have been in the 1880s. Although more than four hundred claims were filed in Jackson Hole in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the vastness of the valley meant there could be little interaction, especially during the harsh winter months. And this was a hardscrabble life; rocky soil led to high operating costs as ranchers struggled to feed their cattle during the long winter. The horrendous winter of 1886/87, as I described in my book Loveland, put an end to much of the open range ranching.DSCN1348

One might think, why do it then? I can only answer for myself as to what I feel when I stand there, surrounded by a landscape so startling, so inspiring, you feel purified, whole, inconsequential and ephemeral. Not having been born there, I cannot fathom my own attachment to this place, why I feel the oft-repeated need to return there, but it somehow cleanses me, clears my head. It was obvious that I somehow had to employ this site as the backdrop for a book. You might think it a poor reckoning, to use a setting so magnificent in my modest western historical romance.   After all, I could not possibly do it justice.

The view from Cunningham's cabin

The view from Cunningham’s cabin

But I have tried…

Dearest Darling comes out Oct. 8th from The Wild Rose Press.  To celebrate, I’ll be giving out copies of both this new novella and my full-length novel, Loveland, to up to 5 people who leave a comment.  The winners are Liz Flaherty, Eunice Boeve, Roni McFadden, Susan J. Tweit, and Rolynn Anderson.  Congrats to all and I hope you enjoy the books.

DearestDarling_w8647_750Stuck in a life of servitude to her penny-pinching brother, Emily Darling longs for a more exciting existence. When a packet with travel tickets, meant for one Ethel Darton, accidentally lands on her doormat, Emily sees a chance for escape. Having turned down the dreary suitors that have come her way, is it possible a new existence also offers a different kind of man?

Daniel Saunders has carved out a life for himself in Wyoming—a life missing one thing: a wife. Having scrimped and saved to bring his mail-order bride from New York, he is outraged to find in her stead a runaway fraud. Even worse, the impostor is the sister of his old enemy.

But people are not always as they seem, and sometimes the heart knows more than the head.

EXCERPT:

Emily liked the sound of his voice, low but not husky, a slight twang he had cultivated, but not pretentiously so. When he spoke, she envisaged melting caramel, something delicious, the way it could be so appealing as she stirred, with a shine and slow drip from the spoon, before it gradually solidified. Soothing. A liquid velvet.

But he hadn’t spoken today. Not since first thing when he’d told her to get ready. Not through breakfast, or as he helped clear dishes, or gave her a hand up into the wagon.

“You haven’t seen her. You didn’t see her picture, did you?” The questions came sudden, yet without malice.

Emily straightened, alert. “No. No, I didn’t.” Would I understand better? Is that what he meant?

“I keep it with me.” Daniel began to fish in his pocket. “Would you like to see it?”

“No. No, you keep it, please. It won’t change anything.” Emily panicked. She would be beautiful, the other, that would be the answer. So stunningly beautiful that just her photograph had enthralled him, mesmerized him into loving her. Emily couldn’t bear to look, didn’t want to know the answer. Didn’t wish to torture herself further. “And I’m sorry. I’m sorry for reading the letters.” A rush of words, they flowed out of her. “I should never have done that. It’s not like me. But you…well, you understand it seems—”

“You’re probably wondering what I see in her. Or what she sees in me. As for that, what she sees in me, I have no idea. Maybe, like you, she wishes to get away.”

Emily studied his profile, the planes and contours of his face, the eyes set straight ahead, the slouch hat low on his brow. He gave nothing away, was a man in control of his emotions, thinking, maybe still wondering how he had won that woman. Or maybe set on keeping the answer to himself.

Overhead, clouds scudded, scoured the sky, leached the blue, threatened.

“Did you ever ask her? Why you?”

“I did. She never answered. I’m thinking what she sees in me is husband material. I guess. She tells me about her day, the people she knows, what she does. As you read.”

“She just seems so…so outgoing, so…so very social to ever want this life. I found it difficult to believe.” She jutted her chin out, then turned to him, waiting.

He gave the reins a sharp shake. “I don’t know. I never asked if she knew what she was getting into. I described it. I assumed if she wanted to stop the correspondence there, she would have. I was pretty damn amazed and happy she’d wanted to come, written back even though I described the cabin to her, the isolation.” His gaze slid toward her.

“And you think she’ll make you a perfect wife, do you? Be happy living here? Cook your meals, mend your clothes, keep your cabin, have your babies?” Exasperated, she tried to make him think, think of what he was letting himself in for, how long a marriage like that could go on, how it could end up being even lonelier than he was now. Emily would seem to him to be trying to win him over rather than making him see the truth, but push him she must, save him, stop him. She knew those sorts of women, the debutantes, the socialites. Not a one would last out here, not for a single day.

His head snapped around to stare at her. “She’s been writing. She hasn’t stopped.”20131018_155503

Buy at: Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Dearest-Darling-Letters-Andrea-Downing-ebook/dp/B00NGWT816

The Wild Rose Press: http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=195&products_id=5842

A Question of Bounty

Back in October 2012, Paul Colt visited this blog with a post about Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.  Paul’s latest book, A Question of Bounty:  The Shadow of Doubt is published this month by Five Star.  Here he takes a second look at the death of Billy the Kid.

**********************************************************************

Paul Colt

Paul Colt

Two years ago Andi gave me the opportunity to share one of my favorite historical controversies. Pat Garrett claims he killed Billy the Kid, July 14, 1881. John Poe, Garrett’s deputy on the scene that night—and others—question Garrett’s claim. They suggest he killed the wrong man and covered it up. Continue reading