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Creating a Family Saga, FS2 - Creating the Families
Introduction - the first families
In creating "The Homeplace Saga" series of family saga, historical fiction stories… I had to start somewhere, of course. In this case, however, I think it is safe to say there were really TWO beginnings. Let me explain. My first novel, conceived many years ago as I was coming out of a writer's workshop experience in Tucson, Arizona, in 1986-87, was to be the first of a trilogy of books. The basis premise was that a widow, whose farm land had been in her family for over 150 years, worked with her lawyer to create a will (a video will, in fact, very innovative at the time) which required that each of her four children return to live on the farm for up to two years in order to participate in an inheritance from the farm. Three of the four children lived in Mississippi, Arizona, and Oregon… one already lived on the farm, expecting to inherit his share and continue to farm all of it on behalf of his siblings.
As I completed that first novel, after my retirement from a university professorship, in 2009-2010, while I still wanted to do "the trilogy," my mind kept going back over that "150 years on the land" concept that was at the heart of the story. Some of the early entries on the home blog showed my "family history/genealogy" side explicitly because I "had" to create the line back to 1833. As it turned out, based on continuing research, that was the appropriate time of the first settlement in the valley where the land was located. This led to additional local and regional research of the land in more detail, research on the social history of the time and the place I was "suggesting" it was located, and so forth. Before long, I found that "I had to tell that story!" A farm family is unlikely to arrive alone in a wilderness valley, only populated previously by roving bands of Indians, and create a community. I needed to create a context. This was the "second" beginning.
I mentioned in FS1 that I had determined the fictional location was in the northwest corner of what is now Shannon County, bordering Texas County, on the west. During the 1820s, along the Big Piney River in (what later became) north central Texas County, my research indicated where were many immigrants from Kentucky cutting pine timber to be floated down the river (via the Gasconade River to the Missouri River, to St. Louis). I eventually wrote a short story, "The Trek to the Homeplace," telling of four of those men (including three families), who became the first settlers in "my valley," in 1833. It was published in the fall of 2011, in the Ozark Writers League annual anthology of short stories, "Echos of the Ozarks, Vol. VII." I have subsequently posted the Trek story on the home blog, in four parts (the link is to the first part).
Owen Olson wanted to become a blacksmith
Creating the families to make a community
So, the "second beginning" was identifying, creating backgrounds for, and adding initial family relationships with those four men, including, of course, Henry McDonald, and his wife, Laura, and son, Harry, who "set the Homeplace movement into motion!" Henry, I already "knew" from my family history posts on the blog, was the 2nd great-grandfather of Mildred McDonald Bevins (the widow who wrote the will) in the first novel, set in 1987. The key, of course, is having people at the correct (feasible) ages having the next child, so that it all fits, correctly, from 1833 to 1987 (and all the constants that entailed). What fun!
Henry was one of the four original men who was there to be a successful farmer in this valley. He was already age 32, on arrival, so was the leader in that category. He helped choose this particular valley, because it had good quantities of good soil. The other of the four men interested primarily in farming was 21-year-old Hugh Truesdale. His father wanted him to be a logger, following in his father's footsteps, but young Hugh was determined to be a farmer. He also had his eye on the daughter of the financial and political leader of the group, Jake Patton. Jake was also a skilled blacksmith and gunsmith. The daughter, Victoria, was a mature nearly 16-year-old raven-haired beauty. Jake and Kate Patton, though already 35 and 33, respectively, only had the one daughter and would have no more. Fortunately for Hugh, Jake and Kate liked him, very much, and the young couple were allowed to marry, once Victoria turned 16, in the fall of the year - when a circuit riding preacher was available to perform the ceremony.
The critical element for Robert Baldridge, aged 30 in 1833, was sufficient fall in a quick-moving, substantial stream/river, to justify building a mill. He was a mill builder by trade, and now wanted to start his own mill. He was accompanied by his wife, Susannah, and their eleven-year-old daughter, Sarah, along with her younger brother, David. Did I happen to mention that Harry McDonald was also eleven years old?? These first eleven settlers arrived in what they called the Oak Creek valley in the late spring of 1833. They had made the trip over, on foot, with three two-wheeled oxen pulled carts, following animal and Indian trails from the Big Piney area lumber camps… a three or four day trek, initially.
Only a couple of months after their arrival, they were joined by a young newly married couple, arriving on foot, Owen and Anna Olson. He was described as a "powerful young man of Norwegian stock." He wanted to be a farmer and learn the blacksmithing trade from Jake Patton. Patton, who always set high standards, took the young couple "under his wing" and it turned out to be an excellent combination for the future good of the valley community. No other settlers arrived that first year.
The map of the east valley
Use of maps to help keep track of both people and land use
In FS 1, we discussed my use of maps, a bit, in creating the village (of Oak Springs, around the Jake Patton blacksmith shop) and what became the 6-mile by 10-mile Oak Creek Township. There, I shared the west valley map as an example. Here, on the right, is the map of the east valley, with Oak Creek coming down, from the big spring, up north, just right of center, over the falls, to create a pool, from which the creek meanders first to the east and then continues to the southeast (to eventual join the Current River, further downstream). The first land settled by Henry McDonald, and his wife, Laura, is the section with the creek running along the north edge of it. This is what became "the Homeplace." Diagonally to the northwest, including the falls and the pool, is the Baldridge original land. Young Hugh Truesdale settled on the land just south of the Baldridge land and west of the McDonald land.
For reasons known only to him, Jake Patton chose to purchase land in the central valley, on Center Creek, coming out of the North Spring. There was also a small spring located on his property, where he built his blacksmith shop and home. The land he originally purchased became the town of Oak Springs, in later years. On the map, this is the section, far left, just under the center line. That center line, became the road back over into Texas County, which became known as the Houston road, when the town of Houston became the county seat of what became Texas County.
As the population of the valley grew, over the subsequent 40 years, and beyond, having the maps to keep track of the growth, and the people, became essential. They also aided in guiding that growth. I have followed growth patterns in many of the communities I have lived in over the years (I'm old). It has been fun. It has also given me insights into growth patterns that I have had the privilege to use in the creation of the "little world" in this particular valley. Describing the total destruction of all the developments in the valley, during the Civil War, and the subsequent rebuilding, has also been an incredible exercise. I did a lot of research on a dozen or so actual communities in a, perhaps, 75-mile radius to understand what actually happened in those communities. Those experiences were built into this story, and this story development. While my stories are totally fictional, all the events described are based on actual occurrences of the time and place.
Direct Link to FS1, for reference
- Creating a Family Saga | FS1 | Creating the Village
Background information on the creation of a multi-year, multi-family family saga work of historical fiction over a number of years. First of a series. Maps and adding people discussed here.