I am doing some research for a possible novel project. I have tons of other novels to work on. So here I am, looking into Baker County history, reading about slugs and sights and scopes for deer, and soaking in some Oregon Trail history.
I found this little tidbit. About a woman who was homesteading back in the 1920’s, in Central Oregon. Alone. Alice Day Pratt. In the Crooked River Valley area.
” One remarkable woman who homesteaded a small ranch alone in the Crooked River Valley finally “starved out” in 1929 and went back east to live with her relatives. Alice Day Pratt wrote in her memoirs: “I gave away my chickens to friends who had helped me in many a tight place. These friends…were to care for…my ponies, which were to run…as long as they lived. I blessed the fact that horses were so over-abundant that they were unencumbered with a mortgage.”” https://oregonhistoryproject.org/narratives/central-oregon-adaptation-and-compromise-in-an-arid-landscape/pre-industrial-period-1870-1910/ranches/#.W1P8tNSEAsY
“And in September of 1911, she and her dog boarded a train bound for Oregon.” Alice Day Pratt and the Homestead Dream
by Molly Gloss, author of The Jump-Off Creek
Now, this is not what my novel would center on. At all.
I wrote a blistering little rant to a friend of mine about the Hammonds and the Bundy fuckery at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and she was like, hey, novel here, write this up. And I was like, oooh, a break from zombies and sex fiends, yay!
A spinster [Alice’s words, not mine] deciding to coolly study where to go, and then settling on Oregon, looking at what land is available and what to do with it. From pamphlets. A woman who worked in the Alabama coal mines as a teacher.
And just now, I had a THOUGHT.
What if I contrasted this Alice character against my composite renderings of real life fucknuts jerking off to how they love them some Constantitooooshan and freeedumb.
I need to tone down my sarcasm, yes. Yes, I do. I need to have sympathy and empathy for the Fucktoads and the Shitbirds with Big Gunz. Uh huh. They never get heard and Free Speech and eagles. Lots of eagles.
I just keep going back to Alice giving away her chickens. Smiling. I see her smiling as she does this.
Trying to be brave, or actually brave and clear-sighted to the realities of what she had to do. Ready to face whatever came next as she headed back East to live with relatives. After being her own woman for years.
1929. Right before American turned into a dusty graveyard of American dreams. Right before the horrors of what Hitler was doing began to drift out of Europe. Right before yet another giant world-wide war would hit.
I read this or that, and have written a paragraph or two on the maybe novel itself. The basic tale. The sides, the politics. I had begun with the two men shooting deer illegally. Which is where I went, hey, what gun would you use and…research time!
Ask one of my gun nuts relatives? That feels like cheating and I’d get weird looks as I wrote down this or that…as trying to remember barrels, bullet or slug size, make and model, years…ugh.
People can rattle that info off like people do with superhero stats. Story lines, alternative universe stories, worlds created; deaths, rebirths, villains, children of superheroes, evolution of superheroes and name changes, color of their bowel movements…
And then I considered, maybe the story needs to be told from the female POV.
That seemed to click-a-clack with me.
Those good Christian wives who go along, who pray real hard their husbands shoot them a big gubbermint liberal commie BLM meddler coming for their freeeedumbs…whoops.
Slipped into total snark mode! I promise. I’ll write like a sedate adult who drinks weak cups of tea. I won’t do that at all. But it sounds nice, right?
I am steeped in this culture, after all, of the Mythical West. I was born and bred here, as they say. I have sagebrush in my blood and a twinkle of Snake River in my eye. That sounds rather gross and painful but oh well.
I, after all, have set many a tale and play here on home ground. In the Owyhees, in John Day, in Idaho City, in Ontario and Vale and La Grande.
I have an entire novel, Cue the Violins, set in a mythical small Oregon town on the far side of John Day, called Smithhouse. Based on Mitchell, Oregon. No monsters, just people in it. Some of whom are a bit monstrous. Does that count?
I set an entire superfun zombie novel in Boise. Boise! Yeah, you don’t get a zombie vibe from that agri-business town, home of J.R. Simplot. Oh, sorry, the guy who invented Ore-Ida…
I remember my grandmother talking about Boise.
It used to be a cow town, full of farmers trading their stuff. Something like that. She had real disdain for it. Boise used to be nothing much and it’s still nothing much, was her general dismissal of it.
And back to that woman giving away her chickens, making sure her ponies got taken care of. With that rather shiver-giving phrase used to describe her time in Oregon–starved out.
It’s a soothing balm. It’s a story arc. Beginning, middle, end!
Bright-eyed hope and optimism, years of hard work, have to give up and go away to perhaps start over again. That’s the real story of the settling of the West. You try, you get clobbered, you have to give up. Or you die before you can throw your hands up and head back to softer places with civilization and understood norms.
That’s the far more honest take on settlers and homesteaders and miners…even the toughest got their asses handed to them, no matter the jaunty cowboy hat and the can-do spirit. No matter how many bears they fight or how many libtards they “own” on Twitter…whoops, sarcasm alert.
So, I might need to incorporate a lone woman homesteader figure in contrast with the Drapers. That’s my current placeholder name for my cowboy outlaw numpties, on par with Claude Dallas. If you have no idea who that is…go look him up. He was considered a hero. Yep.
I also read some of the history of the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM.
If you’re from the west in the US, you know instantly what that is.
There was a brief mention that the native tribes in Oregon, Washington State and Idaho didn’t get treated so nicely. And then a hasty drop the subject and move on to the glossy sentences about settlers and miners.
Yeah, taking ancestral lands and gifting that to the white people [called Euro-Americans]…mm.
There’s also, and I learned that not that long ago, a tale of a massacre in Hells Canyon.
Thirty or more Chinese miners were slaughtered for the gold they’d gathered…and the men responsible didn’t get punished and in fact, established a town or two and become super-respectable. They finally got a monument put up to this…and it’s a half hour documentary if you want to check it out.
So, I have bits and pieces of actual Oregon history, a tale of people who look like they stepped out of a John Wayne cowboy movie so people ignored everything they actually did…and a pardon by a corrupt orange king wannabe to give his base some red meat and himself some praise and back-pats.
Who just gave the raving militia sorts that populate the west a green light. Those anti-gov sorts who rave about their rights and Obama coming for their guns…yep.
Oh, you thought Oregon was nice and full of hippies or something?? Honey! That’s PORTLAND. The rest of Oregon is…mm
Starved out. Giving away her chickens.
Maybe there really is a Great American Novel in me. It’s how to weave the many strands and make a giant wall hanging out of them.
Oh. The Substation Fire pretty much destroyed the Dalles and Sherman County and…it’s bad. The West is on fire. And I’m mixing and matching fragments and pieces of history, myth, tales and bullshit.
Nice to meet ya, Miss Pratt.