Anza’s 1775 Expedition: Arizona to San Francisco in Five Months

Linda Covella author photoRelevant History welcomes award-winning children’s author Linda Covella, whose varied work background and education has led her down many paths. But one thing she never strayed from is her love of writing. In writing for kids and teens, she hopes to bring to them the feelings books gave her when she was a child: the worlds they opened, the things they taught, the feelings they expressed. Linda has been a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) since 2002. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her husband, Charlie, and dog, Ginger. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Google+.


Issues at the forefront of the news today—immigration and race, religion, and the treatment of women—were also important factors that, in 1775, helped shape the future of California and even the United States. Here I discuss these issues in the context of a colonization expedition in 1775–1776 from Mexico to California led by Juan Bautista de Anza, which is the setting for my novel Yakimali’s Gift.

Race relations
In 18th-century Mexico, New Spain, there were distinct classes depending on a person’s heritage. Those with “pure” Spanish blood enjoyed many societal privileges. Otherwise, people were labeled mestizo (Spanish and Indian), mulatto (Spanish and African), coyote (mestizo and Indian), or castizo (Spanish and mestizo).

Over two hundred years later, race and immigration are still issues that divide us here in the United States, as well as other countries. The Anza expedition brought some of the first Spanish and Mexican colonists to California. When I learned of this expedition, I was surprised that, especially since I lived in California, we were only taught about the settlers from the Eastern United States. I believe if we learn more about how and why people come to this country, we’ll better understand and accept the cultures and diversity that make the United States so special.

The Spanish mission to convert the Indians
Today, many people find it difficult to accept different religious beliefs; this was also the case in 1775 New Spain. On the expedition, Pima and Yuma Indians traded produce and chickens with Anza and the colonists for tobacco and beads. The Spaniards, shocked by the Indians’ scant clothing, were intent on dressing them in a “more civilized” manner, as well as converting them to Christianity. The Pimas had their own religious beliefs and gods. They honored Elder Brother and Earth Doctor. They didn’t believe in an afterlife of heaven or hell, reward or punishment. Instead, their souls went to Morning Base where they celebrated with dancing and feasting.

Before 1775, many Pimas were coerced or forced to live at the Spanish missions. And in 1751, they revolted, claiming brutality and land theft. Peace was eventually negotiated. Spanish colonization efforts were suspended.

In 1767, Franciscan priests replaced the Jesuits in New Spain, and the Franciscans continued the Spanish undertaking to convert the Indians. As the missions rose in California, conflicts between the Indians and Spaniards continued. And today, Native Americans still struggle to have their voices heard and conflicts resolved throughout the United States.

Women and children on the expedition
The de Anza TrailOver half of the colonists on de Anza’s expedition in 1775 were women and children. Most of my sources are from the male perspective, but I wanted to know more about the women and children. Who were they? Why did they choose to go on this arduous journey? What were they leaving behind, and what did they hope for their future? This is what inspired me to write Yakimali’s Gift from the perspective of fifteen-year-old Fernanda.

The diaries of Anza and Father Pedro Font, one of three Franciscan priests on the expedition, give just cursory mention of the women’s experience, and almost nothing about the children. For instance, Anza briefly writes about the death of a woman during childbirth on the first night of the journey, 24 October 1775, without even mentioning her name (which was Manuela Feliz), and then goes on to talk about the weather:

At three o’clock in the morning, it not having been possible by means of the medicines which had been applied in the previous hours, to remove the afterbirth from our mother, other various troubles befell her. As a result she was taken with paroxysms of death, and after the sacraments of penance and extreme unction had been administered to her, with the aid of the fathers who accompany us she rendered up her spirit at a quarter to four. At seven o’clock today it began to rain, and continued until half past ten…

One character in my novel, Maria Feliciana Arballo, was a real-life woman who went on the journey. At that time in Mexico, women of all classes were expected to be modest, unassertive, and devoted to God and home. Women could choose their husbands; however, they needed parental consent if they were under the age of twenty-five.

Because of the strict class structure, mixed marriages were frowned upon. It’s believed that Feliciana came from “pure” Spanish ancestry, and her parents disapproved of her marriage to José Gutierrez, a mestizo. Possibly to escape the prejudicial Mexican society, Feliciana and José decided to join the expedition. However, José died before the journey began. Still, Feliciana, with her two young daughters, chose to go on the journey.

Besides her two daughters from her first marriage, Feliciana had seven more children with her second husband, Juan Lopez. Many of her descendants became important figures in California history, including one daughter who was granted more than 8,000 acres in what is now Santa Rosa in northern California. Her husband had died, and she was one of only a few unmarried women to receive such a grant.

Benicia, the California capital in 1853-1854, was named after Feliciana’s granddaughter. One grandson, Andrés Pico, was the Commander-in-Chief of the Mexican military during the Mexican-American War, and his brother, Pío Pico, was the last Mexican governor of California before it became part of the United States in 1850.

Feliciana’s great-grandson, Romualdo Pacheco, became the State of California’s first and only Hispanic governor in 1875. He promoted the establishment of the University of California.

A story of hope
In the end, for me, Yakimali’s Gift is a story of hope. Hope that, like Fernanda, we have the determination and passion to live the lives we truly desire among the people we love. Hope that we value all people’s contributions regardless of gender or race. And hope that we appreciate the richness of our country’s diversity.


Yakimali's Gift book coverA big thanks to Linda Covella. She’ll give away ebook copies of Yakimali’s Gift to three people who contribute comments on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winners from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


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The Great Hurricane of 1780

No question about it—the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has been a tough one. Across the Caribbean, Antilles, and southern United States, major hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, with thousands left homeless and billions of dollars in property damage done.

Hurricane IrmaOne haunting tale of devastation comes from the island of Barbuda, which received a direct hit from Category 5 Hurricane Irma on 6 September. The island’s entire technological infrastructure was demolished by the combination of storm surge and sustained winds of 185 mph, rendering it uninhabitable. Occupants were evacuated to neighboring Antigua, also damaged in the storm, although not as heavily.

Many people wonder how so much death and destruction can occur when we’re able to see these hurricanes coming every time and prepare. What’s the historical perspective on hurricanes? What sort of impact did a Category 5 storm have before satellite imagery, before radar, before electricity, telegraph, or steam power?

By 1780 during the American Revolution, the war’s focus had shifted to the South—Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama—while the ferocity of fighting showed no sign of abating. However the death and destruction caused by warring humans in that conflict was trivial in comparison to what was generated by three major hurricanes that plowed through the Caribbean and the Antilles in October 1780. Yeah, the 1780 Atlantic hurricane season was a tough one, too.

Areas affected Great Hurricane of 1780In particular, the storm with the easternmost track of those three, later called “the Great Hurricane of 1780,” was a Category 5 monster with estimated wind gusts exceeding 200 mph and a storm surge at least twenty feet in height. It likely originated west of the Cape Verde Islands, as do many powerful Atlantic hurricanes. On 10 October, it demolished the island of Barbados—which, from witness accounts, received the storm’s eye wall but not the eye. Within a week, it had gone on to devastate the islands of St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Martinique, St. Eustatius, Puerto Rico, and San Domingo—all crucial ports on the colonial chessboard. (Bermuda received a glancing blow that wrecked ships.)

On every island in the hurricane’s path, thousands of people died. Trees were yanked out by their roots or stripped of leaves, branches, and bark. (Tornadoes spawned in and around the eye wall of hurricanes have the capacity to strip bark from trees.) Thick-walled stone buildings and forts were ripped from their foundations and swept out to sea. Wind and water carried cannons hundreds of feet. Dozens of ships from the British and French fleets were caught in the hurricane and damaged or sunk, with heavy casualties.

By the time the Great Hurricane of 1780 spun off into the Atlantic and dissipated, approximately 18 October, it had killed more than 22,000 people. Some historians believe that the death toll was closer to 30,000. This storm is the deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record. In one week during the American Revolution, it killed more people than warfare killed in a year.

That’s quite a display of power from Nature. In the 21st century, if we expect to lower the death toll and property damage from these storms even further, we’ll have to be a great deal more prepared than we already are.

Suggested reads:


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Is the Traditional American Western Dead?

Mike Torreano author photoRelevant History welcomes Mike Torreano, who has a military background and is a student of the American West. He fell in love with Zane Grey’s novels in the fifth grade. He has taught University English and Journalism and is a member of The Historical Novel Society and Western Writers of America. He brings his readers back in time as he recreates western life in the late nineteenth century. For more information about him and his books, visit his web site, and follow him on Facebook.


South Park ColoradoMy western mystery, The Reckoning, was released last year by The Wild Rose Press. It’s set in 1868 and follows Ike McAlister, a Union soldier who returns from the Civil War to his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas to find his parents have been killed by Quantrill’s raiders. He sets out on a single-minded hunt to find the murderers, a search which takes him to the high plains of Colorado.

I’ve heard some people say the traditional American western is dead—all of which prompts the question, ‘If that’s so, why write a western?’ Well, it’s true the golden age of westerns was some time back. Since then, there’s been a bit of a dry spell until recently when several big box office westerns have been released.

Are they’re coming back? I don’t know, but I hope so. Why would they be mounting a return? Perhaps because westerns and the Old West embody timeless values, places where right triumphs over wrong. Not always, certainly, but you get the idea. The American West in the nineteenth century was a black and white society with clear-cut rules—there were things you were supposed to do as well as things you weren’t. And if you did wrong, there were consequences, oftentimes immediate.

Code of the West
There was a code of the West, even among the bad guys. Simple rules for simpler times. Unwritten, but adhered to nonetheless. The Code drew its strength from the underlying character of westerners, both men and women alike. Life back then was hard, but it was also simple. Things that needed to get done got done. Whining wasn’t tolerated. Complainers were ignored. You weren’t a victim; you just played the hand you were dealt.

If you’re getting the idea I like that kind of culture, I guess you’re right.

The world we live in today sometimes baffles me. Everything seems to be different shades of gray. Honor and fidelity seem to be out of fashion. Our culture is filled with victims. People are entitled. The media are advocates, not observers.

While the Code of the West was unwritten and existed in various forms, there were certain common elements everyone—from the hard-working sodbuster, to the law-abiding citizen, to the hardened criminal—typically abided by. Granted, there were exceptions, but generally that held true.

In 2004, Jim Owens synthesized the Code into ten guiding principles in his book, Cowboy Ethics-What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West.

  • 1. Live each day with courage.
  • 2. Take pride in your work.
  • 3. Always finish what you start.
  • 4. Do what has to be done.
  • 5. Be tough, but fair.
  • 6. Keep your promises.
  • 7. Ride for the brand.
  • 8. Talk less and say more.
  • 9. Some things aren’t for sale.
  • 10. Know where to draw the line.

Let’s look at three of these.

How about number seven—Ride for the brand. It means be loyal to the people in your life—from family and friends, to those you work for. It’s the idea when you’re involved with someone, you should be loyal to them.

Take a look at number four—Do what has to be done. Life is oftentimes messy. Our days are filled with ups and downs, and we make choices all the time. This is about choosing to get done what has to be done, then getting on with something else.

Next, there’s number nine—Some things aren’t for sale. The Code gave westerners a guide to live by that they broke at their own peril. Are there still things today that aren’t for sale? What are they for you? They might be different for each of us, but at the end of the day I’d wager we all still have values that are non-negotiable. After all, values don’t really change—only times, circumstances, and people do. So, if that’s true, then nineteenth century America is still relevant to today’s America.

Out where the West begins
Out Where the West BeginsThe good news is the values the Code embodied haven’t vanished, but more often than not they seem to have been marginalized. Popular culture tends to look down on old-time values, or should I say the timeless values of nineteenth century America. We’re an instant gratification society that focuses on the here and now, and too often disregards the lessons of the past. Imagine a world where you sat with your family for dinner at night, sometimes even talking with each other. A novel concept. Imagine a world where a man’s word, and a woman’s, was their bond. Where handshakes took the place of fifty-page contracts. These principles were captured by Arthur Chapman in “Out Where the West Begins,” a poem he wrote in 1917.

Where there’s more of singing and less of sighing,
Where there’s more of giving and less of buying,
And a man makes friends without half trying—
That where the West begins.

So, yes, occasionally I yearn for those simpler times amid the hustle and bustle of our world. We’re inundated with various media from morning to night. Sometimes Ike’s and Lorraine’s, my main characters, simple, straightforward lives look pretty appealing. Especially now.

Westerns serve to remind us of our solid roots, and that’s why they will never die.


The Reckoning book cover imageA big thanks to Mike Torreano. He’ll give away a trade paperback copy of The Reckoning to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the U.S. only.


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Émigré Spies in the News—in 1793?

Nicola Pryce author photoRelevant History welcomes historical fiction author Nicola Pryce, who trained as a nurse in St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Her interest in literature and history saw her completing an Open University degree in humanities, and while her children were young she qualified as a library assistant to work in school libraries. Her love of Cornwall, her fascination with the Enlightenment, and her increasing desire to write saw her leave nursing to begin her novels. Pengelly’s Daughter was published in 2016 and The Captain’s Girl in July 2017. The Cornish Dressmaker will follow in 2018. Nicola lives in the Blackdown Hills in Somerset. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.


Cornwall 1793: Britain is at war with France

Magnifying glassI was in the Cornwall Record Office in Truro, holding my magnifying glass against the tightly written letters. The voices leaping from the fading ink were urgent:

Consider, I beseech you, what inestimable interests are exposed when your country is at stake: not merely your persons and property, but your dearest relatives and friends, the wives of your bosoms, and the girls of your heart.

I thought of this morning’s news and felt a rise in my heartbeat:

They are coming against us…not for glory, territory, or dominion, but for the very sinews, the bones, the marrow, the very HEART’S BLOOD of Great Britain.

The words jumped out at me. …to glut their lust with our wives and daughters… I could feel their dread. Every document shouted their fear. Your aged parents and your tender offspring—the fruits of your labour, and the means of your subsistence.

Reading their voices was enough to make my heart beat faster. But what if I couldn’t read? What if I was huddled in a frightened group listening from the pulpit, or in the market square? They were coming against us …to punish us for outrages. The south coast of Cornwall was but a twelve hour sail from France. They could invade any moment.

Those who read the letters or heard the town crier must have been terrified, nodding in agreement at the wise words of their betters. Attend, therefore, with alacrity to the calls of your Government.

The calls of your government
Imagine looking along the cliff tops at the woeful state of the defences, the tumbled-down batteries and crumbling fortifications, knowing that the Militia of Cornwall was deployed elsewhere? Britain was defending her shores on two fronts, the Irish Papists were proving sympathetic to the French, and local Militia were thought to be more effective away from their home towns. Imagine realizing there was nothing between you and the immediate invasion of brutal French Revolutionaries?

I read the signature on another letter. It was dated 1798, from Henry Dundas, Secretary for War in William Pitt’s Government. His writing was neat, urging the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Cornwall to do everything in his power to man the batteries …that the allowance for cloathing and one shiling per week will be given to every man residing in the neighbourhood of a battery.

His call was heard. Across Cornwall, companies of volunteers were being mustered. Hundreds of men came forward to learn how to march and drill, how to fire muskets and cannons. Redoubts were dug, the newly fortified batteries manned. A watch was set and secret signals put in place:

In case Captain Bray should come under the Gribbon with his cutter you are to know him by the following signal. By day he will show the customs house colours. By night he will show a couple of lights abreast each other.

The French called a Levée en Masse, placing every citizen at the disposal of the French war machine. I spread out the closely written papers, document after document outlining the need to be vigilant and prepare for invasion. Every man, woman, and child (even un-christened infants), all livestock, all barns, carts and boats …to be recorded on a list of returns and sent up the chain of command for the Secretary of State to lay before the King.

A Posse Comitatus was definitely in the air. Schedule of Papers sent herewith…all men between the ages of 15 and 60…all live and dead stock…all persons willing to serve…Returns of all boats, barges, carts. Recruitment would follow. It would be by ballot, men called up for three years to defend their country.

I searched the papers and found the fading brown ink full of a new concern. What if the French already had spies in place? What if they were watching Britain, reporting every movement back to France?

The hunt for spies
The government knew to clamp down and prevent any possible revolution in Britain. New powers of arrest were implemented, all hint of revolution quelled. Radicals and dissenters needed to be rounded up, seditious meetings infiltrated and their organisers arrested. Those under suspicion would be imprisoned without trial. Spies would be hanged, and any form of corresponding with the enemy seen as treason.

Chief among the suspects were the French émigrés fleeing persecution in their thousands. My mind jumped to the morning’s news. In 1793, the émigrés were fleeing for their lives, warmly welcomed into Britain and given safe haven, yet what if those among them were spies, using the guise of fleeing persecution as cover? Border patrols were set up—a close surveillance kept on every French national entering Britain.

Certificate of ArrivalI started a new search and found The Aliens Act of 1793. Every French citizen needed to register at their port of arrival in Britain. Severe fines were levied for non-registration. The Alien Office was set up, a Superintendent of Aliens appointed to oversee the registration of all migrants. Detailed directions were given to all agents, mayors, and local officials regarding the detention or expulsion of migrants. Every alien was to hold a valid Certificate of Arrival.

And so my book was born
The voices of my characters had begun speaking to me from the faded ink in the Truro Records Office, but someone was still missing. As I read the terms of the Aliens Act, a commanding voice began speaking across my mind, and I knew which way my book would turn. My story is set in Cornwall in 1793, but the troubles they faced then are just as relevant today—the threat to stability, the need for increased surveillance, even the suspicion that those we give refuge to may be spies.


The Captain's Girl book cover imageA big thanks to Nicola Pryce. She’ll give away a paperback copy of The Captain’s Girl to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

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Hunting Waterfalls in Snowbird Country

Lisa Carter author photoRelevant History welcomes Lisa Carter, bestselling author of seven romantic suspense novels, four historical novellas, and a contemporary Coast Guard series. Lisa enjoys traveling to romantic locales and researching her next exotic adventure. Beyond the Cherokee Trail is a 4 1/2 star Romantic Times Top Pick. The Stronghold is a 2017 Daphne du Maurier finalist. Under a Turquoise Sky, won the 2015 Carol Award for Romantic Suspense. Her latest contemporary romance, The Bachelor’s Unexpected Family, releases in September 2017. A native North Carolinian, Lisa has strong opinions on barbecue and ACC basketball. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook and Pinterest.


Historical basis behind the book
In 1835, a minority faction in the Cherokee Nation brokered a treaty with the United States government, agreeing to the removal of all Cherokee citizens to beyond the Mississippi in Indian Territory. This deal—without the official authorization of the Cherokee National Council—became the legal basis for the enforced removal of an entire ethnic group.

When gold was discovered within its borders, the fate of the Cherokee Nation was sealed. But Chief John Ross promised an eleventh-hour intervention. And so in May 1838, most of the Cherokee were caught completely unaware. With crops planted in the field, washing hung on the line, breakfast on the table . . . soldiers appeared at their doors.

On a virtual death march—estimates range from four hundred to six thousand—men, women and children perished along the twelve-hundred mile route that became known as the Trail of Tears or Trail Where We Cried. The Trail came to symbolize the oppression of all Native Americans in the American expansion to the Pacific Ocean.

In the isolated mountain terrain of western North Carolina near the town of Cherokee, some refused to surrender to removal. These few hundred became the Eastern Band of the Cherokee.

Also eluding capture, an even smaller number hid in the rugged Snowbird Mountains—still considered one of the last wilderness regions within the United States. They became known as the Snowbird Cherokee.

Why I wrote the book
Snowbird mountainsWhat fascinates me most is the modern-day Indian and their juxtaposition into the larger American culture. Beyond the Cherokee Trail is a contemporary romantic suspense novel with historical elements. But why a story about Cherokee?

My first encounter involved coming face to face with fake Cherokee Indians as a three-year-old on board the Tweetsie Railroad when I wandered too close to the staged Indian attack. Raised tomahawks leave an impression—fake or not. Thus, my fascination with the Cherokee and with the larger Native American population began. That’s it in a nutshell. Thank you very much, Tweetsie.

When my in-laws settled in Colorado near Four Corners, guess where I wanted to go? Out of that was born Beneath a Navajo Moon and Under a Turquoise Sky.

But my thoughts drifted back home eventually to North Carolina, which has the largest Native American population east of the Mississippi. I knew a lot of Lumbee as a teenager so I wrote Vines of Entanglement.

When I read about the Snowbird Cherokee and how they’d escaped the mass roundup, I realized the 180th commemoration of the Trail was on the horizon in 2018.

Tatham Gap Road signOne of the best things about writing is visiting the actual places where I’ve set my stories. Another great thing about writing is the people I meet along the way. Like T.J. Holland, curator of the tribally-owned Junaluska Museum. A renown Snowbird Cherokee artist, he patiently answered my many questions and helped me to locate what remains of the Tatham Gap Road where the gouged wagon ruts made on the Trail can still be seen. Deep in the woods outside Robbinsville, it is a painfully beautiful yet slightly haunted place. As if the earth itself remembers the suffering of those who once trod this path.

Then T.J. mentioned the waterfall . . .

Ever since “Last of the Mohicans,” I’ve been a fan of waterfalls. I became a bit obsessed with finding the waterfall under which the Snowbird Cherokee hid and successfully eluded the army.

WaterfallObsessed because after a four-hour hike of finding nothing, crossing knee-deep streams of rushing water, scrambling over rocky outcroppings perched precariously over river torrents, I had to be dragged off Snowbird Mountain. A mountain so remote and isolated, it doesn’t surprise me that the Cherokee evaded capture. In this age of satellites and reconnaissance planes, I feel sure most of the modern-day Cherokee Nation could hide out there again and never be found.

But to quote Scarlett, “Tomorrow is another day.” I’ve been studying geographical maps, and I think I know where I took a wrong turn. I just need to ford the creek . . .turn left . . . and head up the eastern face until I either run smack into it or fall off. Anyone up for a hike?


Beyond the Cherokee Trail book coverA big thanks to Lisa Carter. She’ll give away a trade paperback copy of Beyond the Cherokee Trail to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the U.S. only.


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The Forgotten Jungle War

Anne Lovett author photoRelevant History welcomes Anne Lovett, a native Georgian descended from generations of cotton farmers, as well as teachers, preachers, and pioneer women from the Wiregrass region. She has published literary short stories, personal essays, journalism, and poetry. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and rescue cat. Rubies from Burma, a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Competition, is her first novel, and has recently earned a Kirkus-starred review. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook.


“Did Americans really serve in Burma in World War II?” someone asked recently. “That is, besides the Flying Tigers?” The legendary group of American fighter pilots flew for China before Pearl Harbor, gaining fame from a 1942 movie about their exploits. (There’s talk of another film in the works.)

“Have you heard of Merrill’s Marauders?” I countered. “The Burma Road? The Army Corps of Engineers helped to build that. And,” I said, “the movie Francis, the Talking Mule, was set in Burma.”

“Oh, yes!” was the answer. But how quickly we forget.

American soldiers cross river with mulesSome people think that Vietnam was American’s first taste of jungle warfare. While researching Burma’s involvement in World War II, it struck me that if our military could have taken what was learned in Burma and applied those lessons in Indochina, lives might have been saved.

Of course, Burma wasn’t America’s main interest as we struggled in Europe and the Pacific. The country was then a colony of the British, and the Burmese had been clamoring for independence. Did America really want to save Britain’s colonial presence? But the Japanese plan was to create their own empire. Our interest was in driving out the Japanese and ending their plans of conquest.

OSS and Detachment 101
An important part of this American strategy was Detachment 101 of the OSS. The Department of Information, later to become the Office of Strategic Services, was President Roosevelt’s brainchild, a way for him to get clandestine information about the enemy firsthand. That office found the supremely able Captain Carl Eifler, who’d headed a successful spy mission in Mexico, and appointed him to lead a contingent of well-trained officers and enlisted men into Burma, behind the lines, for information-gathering, sabotage, and rescue missions.

Why did I choose that service for my hero, an honest, upright guy? Doing so gave me a poignant question to explore in my novel. What would happen if a soldier found that to do his duty, to use his talents to help win the war, he had to take actions that went against his core values? I wanted to tell that story. As well, I had a logistical reason to choose Detachment 101.

All I knew about my character when I began writing Rubies from Burma was that he served in Burma, had come back with “battle fatigue”, what we now call PTSD, and brought rubies. I had to come up with the details. I didn’t see him building a road, I didn’t want him to be a pilot, and Merrill’s raid came at the wrong time in the war for my purposes. That left Detachment 101, its mission, and its question for my hero.

Research for Rubies from Burma
My research involved reading as much about that war as I could. History class was far behind me, so to brush up my knowledge, I watched both the mini-series “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” based on the novels by Herman Wouk. I then plunged into reading books. (See bibliography at the end of this essay). After I finished my reading, I felt I had a good enough window into the mind of my soldier to allow me to write his war diary.

JungleI found during my reading that the Burmese nation consisted of many different tribes or ethnic groups, some with customs which might seem primitive, such as cutting off the heads of their enemies and drying them. They had no love for the British, but they wanted badly to drive out the Japanese, and were willing to help the Americans fight them. The Kachins, for instance, knew the jungle, and were willing to lead those who parachuted there to safety. They had their price, and it wasn’t American dollars. What they wanted was opium.

Whatever it takes, was the attitude. Opium was acquired. What was not so easy to come by was weaponry other than spears and knives to fight the invaders. They wanted guns. How to arm these fierce fighters? The officers in charge sent back to the U.S. and found, with the war raging in Europe and the Pacific, that there were no guns to be spared for this mission.

Eifler, by then a colonel, insisted that they had to have some kind of weapon. Finally crates arrived from America. Opening them, the Americans were stunned to see muzzle-loaders left over from the Civil War. A large cache had been had been found in an Army warehouse.

The locals happily put them to use.

Partial Bibliography for Rubies from Burma:

  • This Grim and Savage Game: O.S.S. and the Beginning of U.S Covert Operations in WWII, Tom Moon, Burning Gate Press, Los Angeles, 1991
  • A Connecticut Yankee in the 8th Gurkha Rifles: A Burma Memoir, Scott Gilmore with Patrick Davis, Brassey’s, Washington, 1995
  • Quartered Safe Out Here: A Recollection of the War in Burma, George MacDonald Fraser, HarperCollins, London, 1995
  • Battle for Burma, E.D. Smith, Holmes & Meyer, New York, 1979
  • The Stilwell Papers, Joseph W. Stilwell, Willian Sloane Associates, New York, 1948
  • Burma Surgeon, Gordon S. Seagrave. M.D, W.W. Norton, 1943
  • Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, Paul Fussell, Oxford University Press, 1989


Rubies from Burma book coverA big thanks to Anne Lovett. She’ll give away an ebook copy of Rubies from Burma to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


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Re-creating Everyday Life in Late 1880s New England

Edith Maxwell author photoRelevant History welcomes back best-selling historical mystery author Edith Maxwell, a 2017 double Agatha Award nominee for her historical mystery Delivering the Truth and her short story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” She writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies, and she is honored to serve as President of Sisters in Crime New England. A former doula, Maxwell lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site and group blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.


[Note: A version of this post first appeared on Storybook Reviews.]

My Quaker Midwife Mysteries take place in a bustling New England mill and carriage factory town in the late 1880s–which happens to be the town I live in. The family my midwife Rose Carroll lives with resides in my house, or the way my house was when it was brand-new and built for workers who toiled in the textile mill a block down the hill. By now it has had two additions to the back, but the heart of the home remains.

Old New England houseWe bought this house five years ago, and my boyfriend has renovated the entire structure, right down to the studs. We now have new plumbing, new wiring, insulation, smooth walls and ceilings, but we kept the original wide pine floors and the window and door trim. We’ve tried to keep the additions reminiscent of the period when the house was built, so the kitchen has old-timey looking subway tiles for backsplash, as does the bathroom.

Old timey wood stoveWe opened up the kitchen to the sitting room, and I love to perch on the couch and gaze into the kitchen, imagining Rose and her teenage niece Faith cooking and cleaning for the family. But what would it have looked like back then? This is a modest three-bedroom house, not a big fancy Victorian with maid’s quarters and a deluxe dining room.

I have visited several museum homes of the period. One was Orchard House, where the Alcott family lived. It’s only an hour from my home. I also stayed at a living history farmhouse in Maine where the public is invited for 24-hour live-in experiences. The Norlands-Washburn center features late nineteen-century life, from the wood cookstove to the chamberpot under the bed! And I often peruse Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book and Marketing Guide, where she speaks extensively of what a “hygienic” kitchen needs.

Wide table and water pumpRose’s kitchen would have had a wide soapstone sink and running water from a pump. The wide wooden table would have been used for food preparation as well as eating meals, and the cabinet space would have been limited. They might have had gas lighting on the walls, but not yet a gas stove. Certain places in town were starting to be electrified, but definitely not Rose’s home. Refrigeration would have been an icebox. The door to the outside was fitted with a screen door, a new invention that did wonders for keeping the bugs out but letting a breeze circulate in a hot July when Called to Justice takes place.

The family did hire out the washing, and by Book Three in the series (Turning the Tide, 2018) Rose has convinced her widower brother-in-law to hire a kitchen girl, too. Rose has a busy midwifery practice, and Faith works full time in the Hamilton Mills, and Rose argued that it wasn’t fair to either of them to have to do all the housework, too.

I also often think of the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, which I read several times as a child. Those stories take place primarily on the prairie and the frontier, certainly, but many of the everyday household tasks would have been the same.

Readers: Do you have any fabulous late Victorian research sources? Knowledge of everyday life from back then? Please share!


Called to Justice book coverA big thanks to Edith Maxwell. She’ll give away a paperback copy of her Fourth of July mystery, Called to Justice, to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. (Here’s a good review of the book.) I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


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The Invasion of Virginia: 1781

Mike Cecere author photoRelevant History welcomes back Michael Cecere, who was raised in Maine but moved to Virginia in 1990 where he discovered a passion for American History. Mr. Cecere has taught U.S. History for nearly three decades and is an avid Revolutionary War reenactor and writer who lectures throughout the country on the American Revolution. He is the author of thirteen books on the American Revolution and nearly as many articles. His books focus primarily on the role that Virginians played in the Revolution.


Lexington and Concord, Trenton, Saratoga, and Yorktown—these are the Revolutionary War battles that are taught in every school district in America and that many Americans are familiar with. These key events, all of which happen to be American victories in our struggle of independence, spanned six years and contribute to the mistaken impression held by many that American success in the Revolutionary War was inevitable.

What is overlooked by many are the numerous American defeats and setbacks that occurred in between these important victories: the suffering and struggles and yes, numerous losses that Americans fighting for their rights and independence endured between 1775 and 1783. My latest book, Invasion of Virginia, 1781, sheds a long overdue light upon one crucial military campaign in Virginia that occurred prior to Yorktown and that significantly contributed to what became the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War, the siege of Yorktown. To put it bluntly, we do not get to Yorktown without experiencing the Virginia Campaign of 1781.

Defeat and treason
The situation looked quite bleak for supporters of American independence in late 1780. The British had successfully gained control of most of Georgia and South Carolina (destroying two American armies sent to resist them at Charlestown and Camden) and the British commander in the South, General Lord Charles Cornwallis, had turned his attention to North Carolina. To the north, General Washington and his army was stunned by the betrayal of General Benedict Arnold, the hero of Saratoga and one of Washington’s best generals. Disappointed by insufficient French support, which left Washington too weak to strike the British in New York, and fearful that others in his army might follow Benedict Arnold’s example, the American commander and likely most supporters of independence were anxious for what lay ahead.

The British commander in America, General Henry Clinton, was pleased by the success of his new southern strategy, and sent a force under General Alexander Leslie to Virginia in October to assist General Cornwallis in his subjugation of North Carolina. The surprising defeat of a large force of Tories at King’s Mountain undermined Cornwallis’s plans for North Carolina and caused him to order Leslie southward to South Carolina.

General Clinton was not pleased by this development; he believed that control of the Chesapeake Bay was crucial for gaining control of the south, so in December he sent a new British force of 1,600 men under Brigadier-General Benedict Arnold to Virginia with orders to establish a secure post in Portsmouth and destroy and disrupt whatever military supplies that he could that were destined for the American southern army in North Carolina.

British attention turns to Virginia
Arnold’s expedition to Virginia in early 1781 was enormously successful for the British. Arnold quickly secured Portsmouth and sailed up the James River against virtually no resistance from the largest of the thirteen American states. War fatigue and mismanagement suppressed Virginia’s ability to confront Arnold, and his troops plundered their way past Richmond, destroying vast amounts of military and civilian supplies.

Arnold returned to Portsmouth before January ended and for a time it looked like he had placed his force in extreme danger for Virginia’s militia forces gathered, and then a French naval force arrived, but they were soon chased away by the arrival in March of General William Phillips with 2,500 reinforcements. General Clinton was determined to sever Virginia’s lifeline to the Carolinas, and General Phillips was to see this done. He led a strong force back up the James River, where he confronted Virginia militia near Williamsburg and in Petersburg, but his effort to occupy Richmond was thwarted by the arrival of General LaFayette with nearly 1,000 American continentals, the cream of General Washington’s army (picked light infantry).

Unfortunately for General LaFayette, the arrival of General Cornwallis in Virginia in May (following his pyrrhic victory at Guilford Courthouse) and new British and German reinforcements from New York increased the number of British troops in Virginia at over 7,000, far more than LaFayette’s small force could handle. What ensued was several days of a cat and mouse chase; Cornwallis pursed LaFayette, but not very aggressively, while LaFayette grudgingly fled northward towards overdue reinforcements under General Anthony Wayne of Pennsylvania.

In early June Cornwallis broke off his pursuit and sent detachments to raid a supply depot at Point of Fork and the Virginia Legislature (which had fled to Charlottesville). The timely warning of Jack Jouett spared more of the assembly, as well as Governor Jefferson, from capture, but the raid demonstrated that British troops were capable of appearing almost anywhere in the Old Dominion.

By mid-June General Cornwallis was marching east, back towards Williamsburg. Along the way his rear guard skirmished a detachment of LaFayette’s troops who had raced all night to catch the British rear guard, near Spencer’s Ordinary. Two weeks later, it was Cornwallis’s turn to catch LaFayette off guard by luring him into a trap at Green Spring near Jamestown. Fortunately for the Americans, they were able to withdraw before they were completely trapped, but the fight was intense and costly.

Cornwallis’s return to Portsmouth in July and subsequent decision to occupy Yorktown (in compliance with General Clinton’s orders to establish a winter port for the British navy) provided an opportunity that General Washington seized upon in August when he learned that a large French naval force intended to sail to the Chesapeake Bay. General Washington’s concentration of forces outside of Yorktown was a tremendous logistical achievement and the allied victory over Cornwallis in mid-October the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War.

It is likely though, that none of it would have occurred had not events transpired in Virginia in 1781 the way they did.


Invasion of Virginia 1781 book coverA big thanks to Michael Cecere.


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The Domestic Life of a Young American Missionary Couple in Early 20th Century China

Judy Hogan author photoRelevant History welcomes Judy Hogan, who founded Carolina Wren Press and has been active in North Carolina over forty years as publisher, teacher, and writing consultant. In April 2017 Grace: A China Diary, 1910-16, which she edited and annotated, was released by Wipf and Stock, and Political Peaches came out 1 June 2017. Six other mystery novels, are in print. Two volumes of poetry came out in 2013 and 2014: Beaver Soul and This River: An Epic Love Poem. Her papers and diaries are in the Sallie Bingham Center, Duke University. She has taught creative writing since 1974. She lives and farms in Moncure, N.C. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Goodreads.


Until I read my grandmother Grace Roys’s diary kept in China, I thought missionaries were always serious and staid. In 2004 I decided to annotate and publish it. They were not staid. My grandfather Harvey, who went to China in 1910, sponsored by the YMCA to teach physics at Kiang Nan government college, got into pillow fights. Grace who was teaching at a Methodist School for Chinese girls, enjoyed riding horses and chasing wild pigs. He met her shortly after he arrived. They belonged to a close-knit community of American Protestant missionaries. The young people met often to play tennis, swim, sing around the piano, or play dominoes.

As the weather got hot—the climate being like South Carolina—the missionary families went to Kuling, a mountain resort for missionaries. There were lovely places to picnic, swim, and, in the evenings, read a book aloud. A Girl of the Limberlost was a favorite. The heroine had a difficult mother, but she became able to support herself by catching rare moths for a collector. Harvey caught a few moths himself. He went every morning to the swimming pool for a “dunk” and helped clean the pool.

Harvey and Grace fall in love
Harvey and Grace in 1912 at KulingIn the summer of 1910, they came to an “understanding” that they would marry. Unfortunately, Grace’s father thought Harvey wasn’t good enough. This made Grace very sad. She had a nervous breakdown and had to go to a mission hospital in Soochow. Then they let her marry Harvey in December 1910. The doctors and the parents were quite worried, but Harvey could never abandon his “little lady” and risked the marriage on 19 December 1910. He writes on 23 December, “Grace’s birthday. Grace is 21—of age but ‘not her own boss,’ as she says. I think she is boss of two.” A year later he writes on 23 December: “Grace is 22 and happy…No days like these.”

By December 1911, they had lived through the Sun Yat-sen Revolution, the first successful revolution in China, which caused the downfall of the Manchu emperors. The last big battle took place near Nanking. The American consul ordered all women and children to come to the consulate or evacuate on 8 November. Grace decided to go to Shanghai where her parents lived. On 14 November, Harvey went to Shanghai, too. My mother was conceived during this revolution. When Grace and Harvey returned, they learned that three hundred soldiers had camped in his college building, but his physics lab was safe. Grace, fluent in Chinese, helped him speak to those in charge, and Harvey went back to teaching.

My mother is born in Kuling
Margaret, age 3, on Kuling steps 1915On 17 July 1912, Grace gave birth to Margaret Elizabeth Roys. Her baby adventures are told. She was toilet trained early, and one year later went from Monday, 5 p.m. to Tuesday, 4 p.m. without wetting her diaper. Later she learned to request the pot, but Grace wanted her to say: “Hi, hi.” not “Want er sit on er pot.” Baby Richard (Dick) came 5 October 1913. On 14 November Harvey writes: “Bath tub with Richard in it fell off the board into the big tub. Richard was ducked in cold water but did not receive any apparent injuries.” Margaret had mixed feelings about baby brother. Grace found her pounding on Richard with her fist. saying, “Bore hole dere.”

Missionary mothers, Hillcrest, Grace holding Margaret 2nd from left, 1913I also inherited two yearbooks of the Hillcrest School the missionary mothers began, and which Margaret and Dick attended. The mothers with small children worked together to teach the primary grades. Eventually they taught high school, too. Hillcrest emphasized science and had a Watch Guard branch of the Agassiz Society organized in Nanking in October 1895. They encouraged their members to “watch and guard—thus studying mother nature.” Its motto, was “Little by little the bird builds its nest and the child learns.” They sponsored debates, e.g., in December 1903: “Resolved, that we learn more from observation than by books.” The founder of the society was Alexander Agassiz, 1835–1910, a U.S. zoologist. He emphasized careful observation. Grace’s maternal grandfather, James Woodrow, studied at Harvard with Agassiz.

In the 1920 yearbook, Hillcrest student Julia Wilson describes the trip to Kuling. They traveled first by boat up the Yangtze River, later by carriage, then by sedan chair up the mountain.

Among the many things which we saw on our way, the most common…was the many house boats. Some of them had families of beggars on them, others had people who were a good deal better off, some were larger, some smaller, some with sails on, some without them, all sailing up and down the river in a way that seemed aimless…All along the banks of the river and inland for miles around, we could see the rice fields with little villages dotted here and there, each with their groups of dogs and children…On the bank of the river so near you could almost say on the river were numerous little huts barely high enough for a man to stand in. These were often surrounded by miles of very tall reed grass which the Chinese burn instead of wood or coal…When we were nearing towns, large or small, we would meet a man in a sampan, with a long stick driving a very large group of ducks which seemed too many for one man to drive…This was the way in which he drives his pigs to market, only they…were ducks…As we drew near to Kiukiang we saw…several ranges of mountains in the distance looking more like mirage than a range of mountains and the ones that we were traveling to in order to get away from the heat of the plains.


Grace book coverA big thanks to Judy Hogan. She’ll give away a paperback copy of Grace: A China Diary, 1910-16 to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the U.S. only.


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Psilocybin in the Bronze Age

Rebecca Lochlann author photoRelevant History welcomes back historical fiction and fantasy author Rebecca Lochlann, who is busy completing her eight-book series, “The Child of the Erinyes,” several of which have won various awards. The series centers around a small corps of protagonists who begin their lives in the Bronze Age Mediterranean, draw the attention of the Immortals (mostly Athene), and end up traveling through time. Right now she’s deeply immersed in the early medieval world as she edits book #6, Falcon Blue. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, subscribe to her newsletter, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


The people living on Crete in the first three books of “The Child of the Erinyes” were big believers in omens, prophecies, signs, and portents from the gods. My imagining of Bronze Age Crete had hundreds of priestesses and priests, all of whom devoted themselves to pleasing the Immortals and drawing good fortune down upon their societies. Animals were routinely sacrificed, for it was believed that the scent of blood and burned fat delighted the gods. Crete’s High Priestess, Themiste, who also held the impressive titles of “Most Holy Minos,” “Moon-Being,” “Keeper of the Prophecies,” and “oracle,” enjoyed a closer relationship to these deities than anyone else, and hence, more power. She used many methods of communing with them—serpent venom, poppy juice, poisonous laurel leaves, smoke emanating from fissures in the earth, and, perhaps most commonly, the sacred mushroom, known in the story as cara.

Psilocybin, Victorian style
Phrygian Cap[Image “Bust Attis CdM” by Jastrow, public domain.]Which brings me to the most recent segment of the series, The Sixth Labyrinth, set in the Highlands of Victorian Scotland—another place where folklore and belief in “things unseen” remained strong until recent times. I’ve merged several key elements from the earlier story into this tale—one of the most important is the use of the sacred mushroom to achieve vision and expand clarity. It wasn’t at all hard to do, as the genus called Psilocybe semilanceata grows in abundance throughout the United Kingdom, and has been used for its hallucinatory effects since prehistoric times. Psilocybe semilanceata, for those who don’t know, is a wild mushroom with psychedelic qualities. Happily for my purpose, this particular fungus, sometimes called Witch’s Cap or Liberty Cap, is one of the most potent of all the psilocybin mushrooms, and I’ve read that the title Liberty Cap comes from the Greek Phrygian hat, or cap, which I thought a nice, unexpected coincidence, as one of my ensemble originally hails from Phrygia.

Dreams and Bedlam
Psilocybe semilanceata[Image “Psilocybe semilanceata” by Alan Rockefeller, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0]Most of The Sixth Labyrinth protagonists retain no memories of their past lives other than brief images, echoes of voices, and snippets of dreams. These tantalizing, often disturbing impressions at times make them feel as though they’re going insane—a terrifying prospect in the era of Bedlam and other notorious asylums. Once they find each other, their piecemeal recollections grow more insistent, compelling several of them to set forth on a journey of enlightenment. Using the magical mushroom from ancient times, they release their fears, open their minds, and let in that which reality deems impossible. Each insight dredged from the subconscious changes the trajectory of their lives, and Earth’s history, just as it did in the Bronze Age.

In The Sixth Labyrinth, the oracle Themiste returns as midwife and healer, Eleanor Graeme. She knows much of plant lore and the healing arts; she even has knowledge of then-modern science, thanks to a brother who studied medicine and psychiatry. She’s familiar with the properties of Psilocybe semilanceata, and collects as much as she can find every autumn, when it ripens in the fields. She dries it, stores it in jars, and has been known to use it from time to time. Eleanor is instrumental in helping to heal the damaged, fragmented memories of this small band of reincarnated souls.

Another pivotal character readers of the series might recognize from the Bronze Age is the Phrygian warrior, Selene. Life in The Sixth Labyrinth does not treat Selene kindly, yet she still manages to find, protect, and aid those she has always loved. The daughter of a wise woman near Cape Wrath, she comes to the group already cognizant of what can be achieved through the mushroom’s use. In fact she walks a very long way to find her comrades from the past, having used the mushroom to help her in her search.

One character has no need of a hallucinatory mushroom, or any other device. Because of a curse placed on him in the Bronze Age, he is doomed to retain memories of each and every one of his past lives. While it might be tempting to assume having knowledge gives him an advantage, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Communing with higher powers
Different people have different reactions to psilocybin. Getting clear memories of our past lives might be asking a lot. But as stated at HowStuffWorks, “There can be a changed perception of one’s place in the universe and a feeling of communing with a higher power.” The supernatural link between my protagonists and Goddess Athene strengthens this ability.


The Sixth Labyrinth book coverA big thanks to Rebecca Lochlann. Book #1 of her series, The Year-God’s Daughter, is currently free in multiple ebook formats. She’ll give away an ebook copy (winner’s choice of format) of book #5, The Sixth Labyrinth, to two people who contribute a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winners from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET.


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