Imagination isn’t always enough for a writer to recreate the past. Writing historical fiction requires research and detail. Before I begin writing a new historical romance novel, I must first delve into the period. It is essential to be aware of the history of that time, the events that shaped life in the era but there must be more. For me to paint a word picture of life lived in the past, I must know what people wore, what they ate and how they prepared it, how they spoke, and what they did for everything from work to leisure and worship. Many resources are available to writers when they want to learn everything they need to know but sometimes, hands on research and personal experience offer the best option.
Reading about what wagon travel might have been like offers some insights. Watching a movie set in the past might offer more details but climbing aboard a wagon provides the in depth experience necessary to describe it. On Saturday, at the annual Prairie Day observance at the George Washington Carver National Monument near Diamond, Missouri, my family enjoyed a wagon ride pulled by a pair of mules. The event is a long-time favorite for our family and we always make a point to attend. We also take advantage of the wagon rides through the prairie, complete with a storyteller on board. As a mode of transportation, a wagon is far bumpier than a motor vehicle on a paved road, even rougher when traveling over Missouri prairie. Some of my ancestors were pioneers who came westward in search of better opportunities and their progress must have been slow. That it was difficult too was something I’ve always understood. As we made our way through the short route, the mules were reluctant as well as stubborn. The team balked and came to a halt many times during the journey. The driver became frustrated and in fact, I think the mules were finished for the day after our ride since they proved everything I’d ever heard about stubborn as a mule. I believe Saturday was the first time our wagon at the event was pulled by mules, rather than draft horses.
Since wagons aren’t readily available, about the only other time I have the opportunity for a wagon ride is during the annual Neosho Fall Festival each October. I enjoy those as well but the ride over paved city streets is smoother. That provides another historical comparison, town riding as opposed to rural.
Prairie Days also focuses on many old-time skills seldom seen today, everything from spinning and candle making to laundry and music. My mother-in-law happened to be one of the musicians making old fashioned melodies come to life. We had no idea she would be at the event but some friends invited her, seeking her help and music making talents so we had a nice surprise during the day. Prairie Days as well as the annual History Alley held during the fall festival on the grounds of the Newton County Historical museum both offer the curious and the creative an opportunity to experience a little of the past hands on as well as up close and personal.
On my own, to make sure I could describe things of the past, I’ve worn garments of another age, build outdoor fires and cooked over them, baked traditional recipes from antique cookbooks, shot black powder rifles, and more. To describe log cabins, which were much smaller than many people can imagine, I’ve visited them. One is located at the historical museum in Neosho and there are many at Har-Ber Village in Grove, Oklahoma. Other favorite historic sites around the region include the reconstructed Fort Gibson in Oklahoma, Fort Scott in Kansas, and several Civil War battlefields. The architecture of another age can be experienced in Eureka Springs, Arkansas’ historic downtown district. I’m fond of museums and events that offer a look into the past. Civil War reenactments, powwows, and festivals all often provide me that chance.
My contemporary works require research as well but the historical writing I do and have done take dedication to a new level. Along the way, though, I always learn something new and have fun so it’s all part of a writer’s view of life, then and now.