trailWhenever I am asked to explain what Repeating History is about, this is the first thing people ask.  But it’s not all that odd, really.  For one thing, the American version of the Grand Tour was a well-established concept by the late 19th century.  For another, Yellowstone was created as the world’s first national park in 1871.  Of course, that was mostly a formality at the time — Congress allocated no funds to support the new park, and even the superintendent was a volunteer.  The only hotel was a sod-roofed log cabin where customers paid for space to throw down a bedroll while they “took the cure” in the Mammoth Hot Springs.  There were no roads.

bisonBut people did come.  A trickle at first, compared to the millions who visit every year now — in 1877, the year my fictional Byrnes ran into the Nez Perce Indians, roughly between 300 and 500 (The Yellowstone Story, by Aubrey L. Haines, p. 196 — this two-volume set is the definitive history of the park).  This does not count the over 500 Nez Perce, over half of them women and children, fleeing from the U.S. Army into Yellowstone, the most famous of whom was Chief Joseph, of “I will fight no more forever” fame.

They were on their way to asylum in Canada, a goal they would fail to reach by less than 100 miles.  They were running because, ultimately, they refused to move away from their homelands onto a reservation.  The army was after them ostensibly because of the actions of some of the young Indian men in retaliation for what the white people were forcing them to do.  But their path led across Yellowstone National Park, and, in spite of the odds (3000 square miles, less than 1000 people in total), straight into several parties of tourists.

The chance to replenish horses and supplies could not be missed, because by then of course, their own horses were becoming worn out and their own supplies low.  If some of the tourists had not resisted, the situation might have ended with simple theft.  But they did, and the encounters ended in kidnapping.  And murder.geyser

Eventually the kidnappees were let go, but the damage had been done.  What amazes me is something that Emma Cowan (who was the basis for my fictional Eliza Byrne) said many years later.  “It occurs to me at this writing (in Reminiscences of Pioneer Life, published by the Montana Historical Society in 1903) that the above mode of trading is a fair reflection of the lesson taught by the whites.  For instance, a tribe of Indians are located on a reservation.  Gold is discovered thereon by some prospector.  The strong arm of the government alone prevents the avaricious pale face from possessing himself of the land forthwith.  Soon negotiations are pending with as little delay as a few yards of red tape will admit.  A treaty is signed, the strip ceded to the government and opened to settlers, and ‘Lo, the poor Indian’ finds himself on a tract a few degrees more arid, a little less desirable than his former home. The Indian has few rights the average white settler feels bound to respect.”  Quite a statement by someone in her circumstances.  And one reason I was drawn to write about her.

Repeating History by Meg JustusRepeating History
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