Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The History of Náápiikoan Winter

by Alethea Williams

I don’t remember how I stumbled on David Thompson's Narrative of His Explorations in Western America 1784-1812, but I do remember that it was in the days before internet searches and that I had to use interlibrary loan to borrow a copy from a library in Montana. I had never been much of a student of history, so when this book started opening up historical vistas I had little interest in previously, I was anxious that I only had two weeks to absorb all the richness of details of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in what is now the Canadian interior and Montana. So I spent $20, which at that time I couldn’t afford, to photocopy the whole book.

Later I found a discard copy at a library sale of Richard Lancaster's 1966 book, Piegan. Lancaster's book was helpful mainly as another example of a book about an outsider white man in Native culture, but also for his accounts of trying to learn the Piikáni language and his recounting the mannerisms and patience of one of the elders of the Blackfoot tribe. Many of the events in my story follow those David Thompson records in the last four chapters of Part One of his book, which deal with his recollections of a young clerk of the Hudson’s Bay Company trying to foster trade by living among the Plains Indians at about the turn of the nineteenth century, and in particular his dealings with the "Peeagans," one segment of the fearsome five-pronged Blackfoot Confederacy.

That is the story behind the second part of the book, “Rupert’s Land,” a fictionalized account of many of the true circumstances of David Thompson’s Narrative.

The first part of Náápiikoan Winter, “Nuevo Mexico,” is the story of a woman kidnapped by Apaches in what was Spain’s second attempt to colonize the New Mexico area, her subsequent capture by the Utes, and being traded again and again up the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains until she, too, lands with the Piikáni. The interaction of my fictional character, Donal Thomas, the Mexican/Piikáni woman Buffalo Stone Woman, and the passionate nature of a people depicted in popular fiction as emotionless, makes up the rest of my novel. The book is divided into two parts and the main characters figments of my imagination because I didn’t want it to be “her” story or “his” story. It’s the story of a small segment of history that came to have unimaginable consequences for the people who lived it: the conquering and settlement of a Native land by the Europeans.

I have to thank the many fine writers whose work I consulted in order to bring Náápiikoan Winter to life. There is a partial list of sources I used in the back of the book. Since the novel took 20 years to see publication, not all places where I found pertinent details of everyday life among Native peoples are included since I didn’t write down all the books I read while writing my own. 

Alethea Williams is the author of Willow Vale, the story of a Tyrolean immigrant’s journey to America after WWI. Willow Vale won a 2012 Wyoming State Historical Society Publications Award. In her second novel, Walls for the Wind, a group of New York City immigrant orphans arrive in Hell on Wheels, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Walls for the Wind is a WILLA Literary Award finalist, a gold Will Rogers Medallion winner, and placed first at the Laramie Awards in the Prairie Fiction category.

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