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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

04 March 2010

The Elusive Historical Figure


Writing a historical novel can sometimes be an excuse to spend more time exploring a minor historical figure and moment who’s been evading you. I’ve written six westerns and spent a fair bit of effort trying to understand the Apache Wars which ravaged the Desert Southwest during the later nineteenth century. Great Indian war chiefs emerged from those bloody conflicts and are still remembered today – Cochise, Geronimo, and more. I’ve centered entire books on my heroes and heroines’ relationships with those big names.

But my research kept highlighting one man: Victorio, the greatest Apache war chief of all – possibly the greatest Indian war chief. I needed to write about him. So when Portia, the heroine of my upcoming historical THE DEVIL SHE KNOWS, needed to be young and silly but gallant, too, in the face of danger – I grabbed an episode from Victorio’s career.

Victorio was the chieftain of the Ojo Caliente (Warm Springs) Apache, who fought beside Mangas Coloradas and Cochise. Betrayed onto a reservation, he escaped with his people after being sent to another one which held more malaria-carrying mosquitoes than arable land. For years, he raided Arizona and New Mexico from bases within Mexico. Geronimo was one of his cohorts.

The Texas Rangers mobilized to close off the border into Texas. Two regiments of cavalry – the legendary Buffalo soldiers, Negro soldiers from the 9th and 10th cavalry – rode their horses and mules into the ground chasing him through some of the roughest, most desolate terrain in the West. Their commander gave full credit to Apache scouts from tribes farther west in Arizona. The Mexican Army’s finest Indian fighter stayed in the field for months, harassing Victorio.

Victorio was ultimately driven out of the United States by stationing troops at every water hole. Even then, he fought a series of pitched battles, most of which he nearly won, before fleeing across the border to Mexico for the last time. He died there in a battle with Mexican troops, probably at his own hand.

It took the combined efforts of the Mexican army, the Texas Rangers, and 2,000 U.S. soldiers to defeat Victorio and his warriors, who never numbered two hundred men and usually far less.

The opening of THE DEVIL SHE KNOWS is set during one of Victorio’s raids into the United States, when the inhabitants were rightly terrified of traveling anywhere along his likely path.

Have you ever had a historical character pique your curiosity but been unable to fit him into a book? What did you do about him or her?

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4 Comments:

Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

This was a fascinating post, Diane, and I'm glad you were able to use Victorio (and give him credit) in THE DEVIL SHE KNOWS.

I've always wanted to bring Charles and/or Mary Lamb into a book -- esp the shabby-genteel (but very liquored up) little soirees they ran for personages like Hazlitt, Coleridge, de Quincy.
So far, I haven't been up to the task, tho.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Buffalo Soldier 9 said...

Keep telling that history:

Read the novel, Rescue at Pine Ridge, "RaPR", a great story of black military history...the first generation of Buffalo Soldiers, and the story where Victorio and and the 9th Cavalry encounter each other.

How do you keep a people down? ‘Never' let them 'know' their history.

The 7th Cavalry got their butts in a sling again after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn't for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry.

Read the novel, “Rescue at Pine Ridge”, 5 stars Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the youtube trailer commercial...and visit the website http://www.rescueatpineridge.com

I hope you’ll enjoy the novel. I wrote it from my mini-series movie of the same title, “RaPR” to keep my story alive. Hollywood has had a lot of strikes and doesn't like telling our stories...its been “his-story” of history all along…until now. The movie so far has attached, Bill Duke directing, Hill Harper, Glynn Turman and a host of other major actors in which we are in talks with…see imdb.com at; http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0925633/

When you get a chance, also please visit our Alpha Wolf Production website at; http://www.alphawolfprods.com and see our other productions, like Stagecoach Mary, the first Black Woman to deliver mail for Wells Fargo in Montana, in the 1890's, “spread the word”.

Peace.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Pam, I would probably crawl to read any book which included one of Charles & Mary Lamb's liquored up soirees! My writing skills aren't up to it but yours might be.

Buffalo Soldier 9 - I read and watch everything I can find about the interactions between the Apaches and the Buffalo Soldiers. Incredible fighting men on both sides. Good luck with your movie!

1:52 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Wonderful and illuminating post, Diane! I love stumbling across people in research and then working them into a novel. I've wanted to do something with some of the romantic poets for a while. And ever since I read about the Congress of Vienna and the people there (notably Adam Czartoryski, Tsarina Elisabeth, Dorothée Périgord, and Wilhelmine of Sagan), but I didn't actually manage to do it until the book I just finished.

11:33 PM  

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