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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Two Sources

In my novel, Legend of the Lonely Hart, the historical chapters include letters from the main character, Maggie, to her sister.  I love reading letters and journals by women writing about a place and time.  Their concerns and observations are often so different from that of the men, and I can feel what their lives were like.  Maybe it's the voyeur in me, but I knew I had to include letters in my book.  My favorite journal was by Susan Magoffin who travelled on the Santa Fe Trail in 1846.  Here's a link about her:

Susan Magoffin

I also found some great books that described early white women's experiences in the southwest.  One of my favorites was No Life for a Lady, by Agnes Morley Cleaveland.  She was born on an isolated New Mexico cattle ranch and her stories about growing up are so descriptive, you can practically smell the sagebrush.  Here's a link about her book if you're interested in New Mexico during the 1800's.    

No Life for a Lady

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Yes.  There are poodles living at the Lonely Hart Ranch.  See, I grew up with a poodle named (of course) Fifi.  She was the smartest dog I ever owned.  Fifi figured out how to open the refrigerator door.  She also knew that she should only open it (and take a few morsels) when my family was not home, and it took us quite a long time to devise a sneaky plan to catch her in the act.  Obviously she was a lot smarter than we were.

When I first moved to Santa Fe, I noticed poodles here and there and I thought, what an incongruous place to have such dogs.  It's dusty and rugged here, and the poodles would get very dirty.  Even their dainty toes would be caked with dirt.  Then I found out how tough they are, and why they have such silly haircuts.  I liked the idea of an outward appearance hiding an inner strength and the story of their ancestry.  Great metaphor for the theme of my book.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Lonely Hart Ranch

As you travel south from Galisteo, you enter a vast plain of grasslands and volcanic rock where you can find large ranches.  Pronghorn antelope graze on this plain, along with the occasional cattle herds that wander throughout the area.  In the midst of this plain is the village of Stanley, home to the King family ranch.  I used parts of this setting for the Lonely Hart Ranch.

Stanley has an old cemetery with an arched iron entrance, which I turned into the cemetery in Prado Viejo.  It's a barren place, with a few pine trees and a flat, dry expanse with sparse clumps of grass here and there.  So, I added a few cottonwoods and a small stream nearby to freshen the place up a bit.  Writers are natural decorators!

Sunday, July 3, 2011


I wanted my novel to have a strong sense of place.  I like to read books that make me smell and feel a place, and I hoped I could do that with mine.  So I cruised around Northern New Mexico looking for places that would help me create Prado Viejo - and make it feel real.  A few miles up the road from me is the village of Galisteo made up of adobe homes, a few tiny shops and an old church,  Iglesia Nuestra Senora de los Remedios, that was once the site of a pueblo.

Galisteo is a tiny village that sits in the Galisteo Basin, a huge bowl of fertile grasslands and volcanic rock that was home to nine ancient pueblo communities. The village is an artist enclave now, but before the artists moved in, it was better known as a farming and ranching community.  I created the village of Prado Viejo with Galisteo in mind.  But the Lonely Hart Ranch itself was set further south, by the village of Stanley (more on that later).

If you haven't been to Galisteo, it's worth a trip.  And don't forget to bring your camera.    

Saturday, July 2, 2011

On to Novels

I spent quite a lot of time in 2010 working on one of my true family stories, which I posted here.  Many of you sent me emails and posted comments during that time, and I loved reading what you had to say.  Then I went quiet because I began spending all my time finishing my first novel.  Well, now it's done, so I'm ready to start posting again.  But this time I'll write about something different.

While I was writing my (recently published) novel, Legend of the Lonely Hart, people asked me a lot of questions about it.  Where did you get the idea?  How did you find out all the historical information?  Where did the characters come from?  So, I have decided to dedicate some of my posts to answering those questions and telling you about some of the real characters and incidences that happened along the way.  Kind of a "making of . . ." series.  I hope you have fun reading my posts.

Why was it called The Poodle Ranch, and why did you change the title?
That was my working title, and lots of people wanted to know why I changed it.  Originally, the novel was supposed to be about the changing culture of Northern New Mexico - and there are poodles in the book.  So the title made sense.  But then the characters starting taking over, as they so often do, and they decided the book was also going to include another high-profile theme: how legends (and secrets) shape a family.  Legend of the Lonely Hart described the book much better, and I liked the wordplay.

If you have read my book, let me know what you think about the title.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Life Among the Iroquois

There is not much that I can find about the lives of those taken captive by the Iroquois at the end of the 17th century, so I have to make some assumptions about what was happening with Marie Madeleine, her brother, Pierre, and her two sisters, Marie-Francoise and Marguerite, during the time they lived among the tribes. There are also few clues about the family and what was known of their situation by the other inhabitants of Lachine. Much of this part of the story is a mystery, so if you have information that can help infill some of the holes, please comment!

The first unknown is whether Marie Madeleine was pregnant at the time of her capture. She had been married to Pierre Jamme dit Carriere for slightly over five months, and although he was a soldier and most likely gone for periods of time, they would have had sexual relations, if on a sporadic basis. By looking at the parish records and my own family tree from that era, most women gave birth to their first child within the first 18 months of marriage, and often within the first year. So, if she was pregnant, what happened to her baby? Did she miscarriage from the trauma of the massacre and seeing her parents killed? Or did she give birth to a baby who was adopted into the tribe?

Another question also remains: during her years as captive, did she give birth to any children with an Iroquois man? At the time of her capture, she was 16 years old. Would she have taken an Iroquois husband in order to survive, or did the tribe respect her status as a married woman and not expect her to fully assimilate? If she did give birth to children during the time of her captivity, there are no records that I could find about them.

I also am not clear about the status of older captive children. The younger children – Marie-Francoise and Marguerite – would have been adopted by tribal families who had recently suffered a loss of a child, as was the tribal custom. If they had survived, they would have been assimilated into the tribe. There are a few clues that this probably did happen, and I will include these in a later blog.

But what about Marie-Madeleine and 12-year old Pierre? Were they both welcomed as members of the tribe, or would they have been treated as outsiders?

These mysteries aside, I can give you a glimpse of what their lives must have been like among the Iroquois by describing a bit about the native culture. The tribes were matrilineal, so the women owned all property and determined kinship, which was based on clans. They also chose the tribal leaders, which gave them power over political direction. After marriage, a man moved into his wife's longhouse, where other members of her clan also lived. Their children then became members of her clan. The women owned the fields and tended to the crops, while being supervised by the “clan mother.” As mentioned earlier in this blog, the main crops were corn, beans and squash – they were so vital to the tribes that they were called “deohako” or “life supporters.”

The main occupation of the men was waging war and hunting. They hunted in the fall, leaving the village until midwinter. In the spring, they fished. They also cleared new fields for crops and built longhouses. But their tribal status was achieved through their skill at warfare. While the women wore their hair long, the men wore their hair in a “Mohawk” and removed all their facial and body hair. Both sexes decorated their flesh with tattoos.

It was the political structure of the Iroquois that gave them their strength and stability, and made them formidable enemies. The Iroquois League, an alliance of related tribes formed prior to European contact, developed a sophisticated system of checks, balances, and supreme law that was shared by all tribes. Founded to maintain peace and resolve disputes between its members, its primary law stated that Iroquois should not kill each other.

For Marie-Madeleine, life among the Iroquois most likely entailed tending the crops and helping with the cooking for other members of the longhouse where she lived. Whether that longhouse included other captives, or whether the captives were distributed among the many Iroquois villages and longhouses in the area, I don’t know. But as she was a woman living in a matrilineal society, she may have enjoyed some protection, respect and independence even though she was a captive.

Pierre most likely helped with the hunting and building, although as a captive, he may not have had the freedom to venture out of the village on his own. He may not have been able to engage in warfare, in which case it would have been difficult for him to obtain much status as a male in the tribe.

While Marie-Madeleine and her siblings adjusted to their new lives, the wars continued around them, with the Iroquois and other tribes creating alliances with the French or the British. Eventually, other white captives were brought into the Iroquois villages and assimilated into the tribes or eventually released. For Marie-Madeleine and Pierre, it would be 12 years before they were finally taken home.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Life Goes On in Lachine

In the years that Pierre and Madeleine were apart, life continued for them in separate cultures. As far as I can tell, Pierre continued as a soldier while the Iroquois revenge continued around the Montreal area until the end of fall. On October 12, 1689, Pierre lost a friend and comrade-in-arms, Michel LeBourgeois. A soldier from Pierre’s hometown of Lantheiul in Normandy, France, he was killed in battle. Then, On October 25, Louis Frontenac returned from France and replaced the ineffective Denonville as governor. He journeyed to the massacre site in order to evaluate the situation himself and began work to improve the morale of the terrified Lachine population.

Despite the unease of the village, marriages still took place and babies were still being born. People began to rebuild their homes and figure out how to make it through the winter with limited provisions. On December 2, at the Lachine church, Frontenac witnessed the marriage of Jacques Chasle Duhamel, another comrade-in-arms of Pierre Jamme.

The people of Lachine – and of Quebec in general – were used to living simply, working hard and making do with what little they had, so they knew how to rebuild their lives. Pierre Barbary dit Grandmaison and Pierre Jamme dit Carriere would have been typical of the settlers in the area. Once their service was concluded, such soldiers would receive a concession of land. Pierre Barbary was older and had been in Lachine for many years, so he was fairly prosperous by Lachine standards, with a larger house on his concession and some simple furnishings. Pierre Jamme was still a soldier and, most likely, did not have his land concession yet.

But getting a land concession was just the beginning of many years of hard work. First, the land must be cleared, little by little, and the wood used to build the first dwelling – a small log cabin about 15 by 20 feet. Some of the logs were carved to a sharp point at one end and secured into the ground, while the other logs formed the walls and ceiling. Bark and grass were used to plug the cracks between the logs and make it water tight. Once the log home was built, the settler continued to clear the land and put aside the best logs to make a permanent, more solid home. Usually, the only tool used for this part of the work was a hatchet. The smaller tree stumps were pulled out, but the larger ones had to be left in the ground to rot – which took four to five years. Wood that was left over was used for heating. Next the brush had to be burned and finally, the ground could be tilled for the first crops. It took an entire year to clear a few acres and several years to finish clearing the entire concession of land.

The first furnishings were apt to be one or two wooden chests, a storage bin, a table and a few chairs. Early on, most settlers slept on pallets on the floor or in alcoves built into their homes. Most did not have linens – they used dog, moose, bear or ox skin as blankets. The storage bin was used to store flour, peas, bacon, lard and butter. With increased prosperity would come a cupboard for pots and utensils, some better bedding, curtains and, sometimes, a mirror.

So, the people of Lachine began to rebuild their lives and their homes as the winter progressed and they began to feel more at ease. In the meantime, Frontenac discovered that the Iroquois raids on Lachine and the Montreal area had been supported by firearms from the English. He asked his general, Iberville, to organize a raid into the heartland of the English colonies, and in February of 1690, Corlaer, now called Schenectady, was burned and destroyed, along with the villages of Salmon Falls and Casco.

"I don't see,” Iberville said, “the reason why we don't do to them what they've done to us in Orange (Albany) and in Manatte (New York) where they've provided arms and pay to the Iroquois to come kill the French of Montreal."

By July, the English and French were fighting in earnest. The skirmishes were so numerous, they could not be counted. The English had many successes from 1689 to 1692, then, in 1693, a detachment of 625 men struck the Mohawks hard in the Albany area. This convinced the Five Nations to negotiate peace with the French and their allies. The negotiations continued throughout 1694.

These negotiations would have an important impact on the fate of Madeleine and her brother, Pierre.