Sunday, July 11, 2010

the real red shirt

My apologies to readers for Blogger as it's behaving badly! Parts and pieces of this post have now disappeared as well as comments. Since I don't have time to figure it out, thanks to those of you who faithfully persist! On a different note...

Readers often ask where the inspiration for a character comes from. I always point to history books and old photographs. Here is the real Red Shirt. Born along Nebraska's Platte River in the 1830's to an Indian mother and white father, he is something of an enigma. I discovered him 20 years ago while researching the Oglala/Lakota (Sioux) Indians for a Dances With Wolves type novel. He identified with the Lakota and lived free till his people were placed on reservations. He and his wife, Pretty Woman, had several children. The photo shows him (far right) accompanying the famous chief, Red Cloud, in a delegation to Washington DC. Later, he joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

I've carried him around in my head and heart for a long time:) Of course, I had to alter him a bit for my book. He had to leave the Sioux and become Shawnee. And Pretty Woman was a thing of the past! I also had to tweak his name to fit into the historical context of the 18th-century. Most importantly, my Red Shirt found freedom in Christ as well as freedom to exist where he pleased. Literary license is a fine thing. Every reader will have a different picture of him in their head and heart, too.

What is life? If is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. ~Crowfoot

Many thanks to my dear friend, Mary, who is hosting a double whammy giveaway of Courting Morrow Little. Please take a peek and enter to win a gift book, even if you have one of your own. Bless you all!


  1. I love reading about your inspirations, Laura! And wasn't the real Red Shirt quite the handsome man?!

    We had RAIN in Kentucky on Friday! The first in a few weeks. The grass is still crunchy, but not as much as before! It was nice to get a break from watering all the flowers, too!

    Have a great week, Laura!

  2. How interesting, thanks for sharing!

  3. Fascinating post Laura! The pictures are so cool! But I must admit, I pictured Red Shirt a little differently ;) Goodness, what must it have been like to walk in his moccasins? Really like his wife's name, too- my Indian name would probably be She Who Talks A Lot or She Who Uses Many Exclamation Points, LOL!!

    LOVE the quote, too, very powerful! Thanks again for the historical gems you always gift us with :)

    Praying your week is filled with beauty and inspiration and JOY!!

    Amanda Stanley

  4. Such fab photos! I had no idea Red Shirt had such a history before finding his way into CML! He was very handsome, with such beautiful hair.

    Now, when do we get to read this Dances With Wolves type novel from 20 years past? ;-)

  5. This was a great post, and I'm so sorry Blogger was giving you trouble. :( It's no fun, and I remember that you were able to sympathize with me when I lost a long comment during our book discussion on my blog! ;)

    Anyway, I'm still hoping to read this book soon!!! What intriguing inspiration--and gotta love that literary license! ;)

    Oh, and I LOVE the quote! Thanks so much for sharing!


  6. Ooh. Nice photo, thanks for sharing your inspiration. Which one is Red Shirt? It seems from Regina's comment that you must have pointed it out, but I can't find it. But if parts of the post are disappearing...

    Bad Blogger!

  7. Bad Blogger! I stopped by earlier and saw more pictures of Red Shirt than what you have here but didn't have time to comment.

    Your mind fascinates me, Laura. You are a true historian and that is definitely reflected in your books. It never occured to me that Red Shirt might be inspired by a true part of American history. That makes his story (shared by you) all the more exciting.

  8. Oh my, Lori, that part disappeared along with 3 other pics of him! Thank you for asking! He is on the far right in this photo. I wish you could see a close-up as he is just stunning! Hmmm, Blogger must have a virus or something!

  9. YES, Regina!
    Praise for RAIN! My mom was as thrilled as you:) I was on the phone with her and she said, "Can you hear the thunder?" Sigh:) I LOVE thunderstorms. It rarely does that here and I miss it so. I imagine those big KY tomatoes are getting ripe about now...

    Yes, Red Shirt was a very handsome man. I have an album of him with photos from the Smithsonian, etc. He never took a bad picture:)

    Hope you're off to a wonderful week!

  10. Casey,
    Thanks so much for stopping by! I know you are so busy. Praying for you as you write and can't wait to hear more!

  11. Hi Amanda,
    Chuckling at your choice of Indian names:) I shudder to think what mine might have been. Some were quite graphic! I think his wife must have been just like her name ~ a very pretty woman ~ which doesn't surprise me as he was such a strikingly handsome man. I can't remember their children's names but some were quite cute:)

    You bring up such a good point about envisioning Red Shirt differently. That is so very true. I almost hate to post pics as readers think, "What in the world! That's not THE man!" We really do carry a hero of our own around in our heads and hearts. Which is one of the wonders of fiction!

    Hoping your week is filled with all the same! Bless you bunches!

  12. Mary,
    I'm so glad you didn't start with my Prairie story as I'm sure you would have used it for fire starter and not given me another thought:) I took it out of my trunk and read a bit of it last year and had a good chuckle. I had this one jail scene that went on for 50 pages or better. My, my...

    Yes, he did have amazing hair! Down to his waist! Glad you saw those photos before they disappeared:)

    So excited about your giveway! You are such a sweetheart!

  13. Kav,
    So good to hear from you. And it's such an honor that you would consider me somewhat of a historian. That means so much to me. I nearly majored in that in college but switched to English. Should have double-majored in hindsight.

    Your comments made me think of something I read in the little devotional, Our Daily Bread, tonight. Thought I'd share it here as it says what I tried to say in the post and couldn't.

    "While making his landmark documentary about World War II, filmmaker Ken Burns and his colleagues watched thousands of hours of military footage. Scenes of the devestating battle of Peleliu often invaded their dreams at night.

    Burns told Sacremento Bee reporter Rich Kushman, "You're listening to the ghosts and echoes from an almost inexpressible past. If you do that, you put yourself into the emotional maelstrom."

    Wish I'd said that! Not only do we writers put our historical characters through the ringer, they do the same to us:)

  14. Hi Amber!
    So glad you're back with us again!
    Please go over to Mary's and visit and you might win:) I really am mystified with Blogger. I knew it was bad when I went over to Seekerville and they had a ton of comments the other day and the next time I looked they'd shrunk to 19! Patience, I tell myself, which is in short supply this month. Bless you and happy writing and reading to you!

  15. Love the photo and the story!

  16. Me, too, Adrienne! Old photos are full of inspiration. I actually like the black and whites better than color for some reason. The Old West ones like this are just so rich and beautiful. Wouldn't it have been something to have been a photographer back then:)

  17. Ruth,
    Thanks so much. History hands us so much that is fascinating and inspirational ~ and I'm so thankful!! Bless you today!

  18. I loved reading this, Laura! I'm certain the real Red Shirt had quite a fascinating history. I'd read quite a bit on the Lakota and many of the other western tribes, I never encountered Red Shirt though. Thank you for introducing me to him. ;)

    Hope you have a wonderful day!

  19. Michelle,
    So happy this appeals to your history loving heart:) Mine, too! I love looking at my album of old pics ~ I have one of him as a very old man but it always makes me a bit sad as it reminds me that a part of our past is gone forever ~ and with it all those facinating things we will never know about.

    Praying you have a blessed week in every way (and maybe a little Panera, Cracker B, or Bella Notte thrown in:).

  20. wow, what a character! And he is very handsome :) It is amazing how many interesting stories there are out there.....lives so entwined, cultures clashing, coming together....I bet many more of us that we would think have similar ancestors in our backgrounds. Unfortunately, they are enigmas too. Especially when the mother was the native american. I have an ancestor I've been trying to research that both my mom and grandpa remember being completely cherokee, although the only fragments of info I've ever found on her find her as a grown woman listed as 'white' on an old census....
    Lol, but I digress (as always!) He's the perfect Red Shirt! So regal and handsome :)

  21. wowza!! he's a good-looking guy, isn't he?
    I think my heart may do a bit of fluttering while reading a story about him!
    I can't wait to read more about him.

  22. Heather,
    Yes, he is so very handsome:) If he looks this good in photographs, what must he have been like in person?! My brother who is so computer-savvy it makes my head spin, provided us a link to see more pics of him and an enlarged one of the delegation. Will post that here in a sec.

    I know how you feel about researching that lost ancestor. Census records often lied as natives were listed as white, names were changed, or they weren't listed at all. So sad and confusing. My granny's father was listed as illegitimate per the VA census in the latter part of the 19th-c. His last name was changed from Bear to Barr.

    So good to hear from you. Can't wait to see who our winner is:)

  23. Hi Lisa,
    I was just thinking of you this morning! And somehow I knew you'd like the Lakota Red Shirt as you are such a Follow the River fan:) I still use that book for reference and research. Thom is a master!

    Hope your summer is going well. I am on deadline so my blog visiting is severely compromised. Always a treat to hear from you!

  24. My brother, bless him, sent me a link which shows the photos in my collection on one site:

    For fellow wild west lovers like me:)

    Thanks, Chris!!

  25. Wow. I checked out the site your brother sent and that is awesome. Red Shirt had some nice hair too. How long do you get occupied with research?

  26. Adrienne,
    Thanks so much for checking Chris's link out ~ it really is amazing. Wish I had his hair:) You ask such a good question. I have to admit I spend more time researching than reading novels. Most of what I read is history which is probably why my books contain so much of it. I've heard other authors say they research @ 3 months and then write the book in 9 months. I tend to read history all the time so my research never has a stop and start point. I am taking a break and reading Siri Mitchell's She Walks in Beauty:) In between editing for that deadline looming August 1. You always ask such good questions. Thanks so much.

  27. Thanks so much for this:) It kinds of brings history to life to see pics after reading your books. I feel like I know Red Shirt:D
    Love your posts! Keep up the good work!

  28. Hi, hope it's OK to contact you with this comment. We'd like to offer you to be included on our giveaway search engine: Giveaway Scout ( Have a look and if interested, use our online form to add your blog ( ). thanks, Jen

  29. Aren't brother's the best?! Mine always comes to the rescue when I have a computer problem, too ;)

    This link is SO cool! I love the pic of Red Shirt's profile, very handsome and strong, and it says there must be many undefeated warriors in his lineage :) And wow, you do a lot of research my friend! But I bet it's very rewarding when you get to learn such wonderful facts and then work them into your story! We certainly appreciate it all- it adds layers and a depth and richness that is not only fascinating but it also helps to pull you into the story :)

    Hoping you find many relaxing and peaceful moments to enjoy Siri's book! Even writers need to read sometimes ;) Thanks again for recommending Nancy Moser- I'm dying to read her book "How Do I Love Thee?" about Elizabeth Barret Browning!!!

    Thanks again Laura and thank you to Chris, too! Praying you both have a beautiful day!!

    Amanda Stanley

  30. Bless you right back, Amanda! Thanks so much for looking at the link. That wild west history is so fascinating to me. I love the Plains Indians and their culture and would love to take a trip to the Dakotas. Red Shirt is buried there in a little cemetary on Pine Ridge or thereabouts. Trouble was, there were several Red Shirts. And I never discovered the meaning of his name.

    So glad you are a Moser fan! Check out her upcoming book called Masquerade ~ it looks so good and the cover is so pretty. I will try to have a giveaway of one of her books here soon. I have all of her historicals and need to read them and then share. Trouble is...which one!
    Praying for you today!

  31. Many thanks to your brother for the link. It answered a couple of the questions I had.

    Just curious since you love the Plains tribes, have you read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown? It was the first adult book I ever read (in 4th grade!) It took me months to finish it, but once I had I found I could read just about anything.

  32. This is fascinating. I love learning about how you get your inspiration for your incredible stories. Incredible? I correct that, credible. Very credible. Thanks for sharing this including the quote and the great photograph. By the way, Indians called photographers (like in the novel I'm working on) "shadow catchers". I could almost imagine my protagonist taking the photo.

  33. Laura, on your remark to Kav -
    "Not only do we writers put our historical characters through the ringer, they do the same to us." SO TRUE!

  34. P.S. Isn't the one on the far right rather handsome?

  35. Michelle,
    That was a landmark book! I also have the movie. Am wondering if you've seen that? I haven't watched it all the way through yet but it's very good. Sad, but good. One of my other favorites is Allan Eckert's A Sorrow in the Heart. Very moving. It's one of my favorite research books and chronicles the life of Tecumseh. Bet you've read some about him:)

  36. Carla,
    The term "shadow catchers" is very evocative and beautiful. I am so thrilled to hear more about your protagonist:) Red Shirt was unusually handsome/striking. He certainly shines in that delegation line-up! Thanks for your great comments - they always add so much!

  37. I have watched the movie version. I didn't even know there was a movie until I was looking through the DVD shelves one day at the library. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for the recommendation of Allan Eckert, I've never read any of his books. They sound very good though. I've put them on my wishlist.

  38. Charity, So good to see you here! Thanks so much for your comments ~ they make my day! I love history so much that it just spills all over the place over here:) Glad you like the real Red Shirt and Morrow's. I sure miss those characters! Bless you today.

  39. I just finished the new book and it was sooooo good! I am a church librarian who reads a lot. I found this book to be very special. I enjoy the Indian stories and the intermarriage of white and Indian. Not to many people handle this topic and you did a great job. Keep up the good work. I look forward to your next book. It will be in our library if I am still librarian.

  40. Dear Candace,
    It's wonderful to hear from you. Church librarians are some of my favorite people! And church libraries are one of my favorite places:) We have a tiny one at our church as we have only about 100 members but it's a special place for many.

    I'm thrilled to know you enjoyed Morrow's story. It was such a joy to write! God is so good to bring authors and readers together through our love of good books. I hope you like my next story, The Colonel's Lady, just as much. It's about a Revolutionary War hero and a spinster. It's due to my editor this week and I'm already missing those characters.

    Bless you so very much, Candace, for being thoughtful enough to write and tell me you enjoyed CML. The Indian/Native American aspect is very dear to me as my great-grandfather was Cherokee and married a white woman, my great-grandmother. If you haven't read The Frontiersman's Daughter, my first book, it's at many public libraries now.

    Please keep in touch! You've sure blessed me this morning.

    1. It is my understanding that the man on the right is American Horse. Chief Red Coud is in the middle.

  41. Ogle Luta was my Great Ancestor I find it amusing he used in a book. He was a handsome man as all of us Red Shirts are. His son took 100 horses for a bride now if that story does not make me a Red Shirt then many who do not know the name of the bride is not a Red Shirt.