Heritage and Facts – This Will FORCE Me to Re-evaluate

The kick in the teeth came today while I was looking over the internet and all of the discussion regarding the church shooting in Charleston, SC, and, by the way, the number of idiots posting on the internet about this is astounding.

As you know, a little while back I wrote a piece on my journey of self discovery as it regards family history, slavery, and civil rights.

I knew that several of my ancestors had fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War and I was proud of the fact, just as I'm proud of the ones who fought in all the other wars and the ones who didn't serve in the military at all. 

When you are judging what your ancestors did, to a certain extent you have to judge it in the climate and the circumstances of that time. It doesn't necessarily excuse "bad" behavior, but it may make their actions less reprehensible or make it more understandable that they did such things than the same actions (or omissions) would today.

I had always assumed that my ancestors fought on the side of the Confederacy because they lived in the South, they viewed the attitudes and actions of the North as offensive, and because, at one point, their homeland was "invaded" (for more information on that topic see the Red River Campaign of 1864).

The oral family history indicated we'd always been "dirt poor farmers" (my words) and I'd looked at census records when I started doing genealogical research (I am an absolute novice at this) and had never seen any indication that the farmers had slaves at all, just a bunch of children which I'm quite sure had been put to work in the fields at as early an age as possible.

However, I wondered if I had the whole story and so, on a whim, I decided to dig a little deeper and do some research on how to find out if someone owned slaves right before the Civil War. What I discovered was unsettling in a number of ways.

In 1860, the US census was a little different than some of the others, which listed slaves on the same pages as the other members of the household. This particular year, the slaves were listed on a separate document called a "slave schedule" which lists the slave owners by name and then the slaves they owned by gender and age.

I'm researching the maternal side of my family at this moment and so I chose one ancestor that I knew who was alive in 1860, had been in the Civil War (he died of Typhus or Typhoid in 1862), and who owned land. I looked up his name on the slave schedule.

In 1860 he owned two slaves, one 16 year old male and one 14 year old female.

Admittedly, I was a little shaken. I chose to look up another ancestor, one who isn't listed in the official records as having served in the war.

In 1860 he owned one slave, a 14 year old male.

I stopped my research at that point. I'll go back to it later, because ignoring history doesn't change it or make it go away.

To those claiming the right to fly the Confederate flag is a matter of heritage and that it wasn't about slavery, it may be time for you to go back and do a little digging in your family tree. I thought my ancestors were fighting for an "ideal" and now I have to acknowledge that at least a portion of those principles were that they wanted to own another human, in the limited research essentially three kids, to make it easier on themselves. Not something I particularly want to celebrate.

What's particularly troubling to me about this isn't that I was operating under erroneous facts, that happens to everyone occasionally, it's not really that my ancestors owned slaves because while that was wrong, there is really nothing I can do about that. What is really troubling is that there is a good chance that I may know the descendants of these slaves quite well.

This all plays into the real characters that influenced my first published book, The Bottle Tree, and I must say it has really, really had a deep and, I suspect, a lasting effect on me.

More on that at another time, when I've had the chance to reflect and consider.

Calling All Book Clubs!

Calling all book clubs

One of the things I enjoy most about being a writer is interacting with readers and potential readers. I always learn something new about them, the subject of my book, or, just as often, about myself. As a matter of fact, the only thing I don’t like about doing book signings is that often it gets so hectic I don’t get to spend as much time interacting with individuals as I would like.

Unfortunately, it seems as if reading is becoming a lost art and I would love to do anything I can to help keep it stay alive.

If there are any book clubs out there looking for a writer to speak to their group, either in person or via Skype, or to help them with some type of promotion drop me an email and let me know. I’ve donated autographed books or collections of books in the past and have also agreed to let readers name characters in future books as a way to help clubs.

My schedule is pretty flexible and I’m willing to drive to meetings in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, or Louisiana (or maybe further!) and Skype is always a possibility. I don’t ask for expenses since I’m always doing research on different parts of the country and the chances are good that no matter where you are located I’ve got a project being researched near you.

The offer applies to libraries and schools as well. Last year I was honored to be asked to accompany Dr. Shane Rasmussen, the head of the Louisiana Folklife Center at Northwestern State University, to a storytelling session at the Coushatta Elementary School (in Louisiana) and had a tremendous time talking to several classes of students there. I was even luckier since the older of my twin sons, Robert Michael Bennett, went with me and the students got to hear a little about his backpacking trip across Europe from which he’d just returned.

So…drop me a line if I can be of any help. I’m always happy to add dates to my calendar.

2015 Natchitoches-NSU Louisiana Folklife Festival

2015-Folk Life Festival

Summer is here and everyone is looking for something fun to do. I'd like to suggest that you consider visiting the 2015 Natchitoches-NSU Louisiana Folklife Festival held in beautiful and historic Natchitoches, Louisiana at the Prather Coliseum on the campus of Northwestern State University. Most of the exhibits (including my booth) are inside the air conditioned coliseum so you can escape the heat and see some great craftsmen, hear good music and try Louisiana foods.

The Folklife Festival is set for July 17th-18th, 2015, and the theme this year is Backroads and Bayous: Celebrating Louisiana's Rural Folklife.

The link to the festival website with the schedule and bands is here.

My wife and I used to visit this every year from when we were first married continuing through when we moved away and then we were lucky enough to be invited to start attending as exhibitors when I started publishing books a number of years ago. The festival is put on by the folks at the Northwestern State University Folklife Center and they do a great job every year. The cost is low and it is well worth the expense plus, if you've never been to Natchitoches, it's a great time to visit my hometown.

Natchitoches is the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, founded in 1714, just a short distance from the location of the festival.

If you do decide to attend be sure and stop by my booth and visit with me. I'll have books there for sale but I like to visit with everyone whether they purchase or not and my family has lived in the Natchitoches are since its founding. I've actually been learning about its history since I was a very, very small child through the stories my relatives told in addition to the enormous number of hours I've spent doing formal research so I can probably point you to some interesting places that most people don't know about as well as the more touristy ones. My kids can tell you that no matter where you are in Natchitoches Parish I can probably point in a direction and tell you something fun or historic not far away (much to their boredom at times).

Anyway, it really is a great festival and Dr. Shane Rasmussen and his staff are working hard to preserve the Louisiana culture and heritage, focusing on not just the bayous and swamps of the southern part of the state or New Orleans. 

Slavery, Civil Rights, and Self Discovery While Being a Writer

I'm very proud of the fact that, unlike many people I know, knew, like and dislike, I am a liberal/progressive at heart, I think we can and should do better than what we have done in almost all areas of our lives and our history, and that we must know our history so we can learn from it.

Born in Louisiana and raised there and in Texas, I consider myself a Louisianaian and a Southerner, and a Texan to a lesser extent. However, I do not like the direction my states have taken. Rather than the genteel (yes, genteel not gentle) outlooks on life and others I think the states and many of the more vocal residents have taken a turn for the worse, choosing rhetoric over action and choosing a viewpoint that dooms our region to take steps backward instead of forward.

I don't get into political discussions on my author website simply because this isn't the place for them. Sometimes the positions I take in my writings aren't my personal positions, the outlooks or sentiments are those necessary to advance the story. Certainly, you can often read between the lines and could likely discern my attitude on certain political points or, if you want to know, just ask me and I'll give you a personal response, but the author blog is where I share stuff about my books.

Over the years I've had to examine myself and my viewpoints on several occasions. When working on the first Noah Chance book, I was forced to consider the word of those born with Down's Syndrome and the people who love them and I quickly found that not only were my views outdated but they were also wrong in many ways because the information which caused me to form those views was incorrect. 

When writing The Bottle Tree I examined racism, the black and white divide, and why it seemed to be getting worse rather than getting better. My books are, so far, fiction and so it's incumbent upon me not to get too preachy in my novels and to try and keep them interesting while at the same time addressing issues that appear as the book develops. Johnny Robinson allowed me to do that in The Bottle Tree since I knew Johnny back when we were children and since he had appeared in my memories throughout my life. I only wish I had taken the opportunity to contact him again before he passed away and renewed the friendship which I hope would have rekindled. 

For the last year or so I've been working on a historical novel about Louisiana and, as a part of my research, spent a lot of time doing genealogical work tracking how my family came to be in Louisiana and why that is where I identify as "home" no matter where I travel or actually live. 

A number of my ancestors fought in the Civil War on the side of the Conferacy and, until recently, I could say they must have been fighting for the idea of the South since the census records didn't indicate any of them had owned slaves. I'm not ashamed of them fighting for the Rebels and anyone who says people should be ashamed of that fact simply don't understand the concepts which governed life back then or at least life the way they wrote about it in their diaries and journals.

However, in the research I did find that one of my ancestors did own slaves. Not one who was involved in the Civil War but rather one who has a more prominent place in history. Louis Juscheareau de St. Denis, the explorer who founded Natchitoches, the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, owned a number of slaves.

What is particularly interesting is that the daugther of the slaves he owned was Marie Therese Coincoin (Metoyer), whose freedom was later purchased by Claude Thomas Pierre Métoyer, with whom she had ten children. She and her descendants established the Creole community along the Cane River in Natchitoches Parish, including what is said to be the first church founded by free people of color for their own use, St. Augustine Parish (Isle Brevelle) Church, in Natchez, Louisiana.

So while slavery itself was wrong, the fact that St. Denis brought slaves to Natchitoches with him when he founded the settlement allowed for the creation of what is a phenomenal piece of history, the Creoles of Cane River. The direct descendants of Metoyer and Marie Coincoin still live along Cane River today and their culture and heritage is a vital part of Natchitoches.

As a side note, many people know my hometown of Natchitoches due to its most famous food Natchitoches Meat Pies which were once sold by cart vendors in town and which are still available throughout the area. The best I have ever eaten are made by the ladies at the very church mentioned earlier. St. Augustine Parish (Isle Brevelle) Church who sell them at booths at the Christmas Festival in December. Some even credit the creation of the meat pie to the Creole community although I haven't looked into the history of that yet.

All that to say that our history shouldn't necessarily make us ashamed, even when it is something that by modern standards isn't aceptable. Instead, it should be embraced and learned from, building on the good and avoiding the repetition of the bad.

Now, since many of you have mentioned that you like the recipes I post, a meat pie recipe that's sure to beat those frozen ones. This recipe is from www.Natchitoches.net.

Meat Pie Recipe

Meat Pie Filling

  • 1 teaspoon shortening
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork meat
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 1 pod garlic, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped          
  • Salt, black pepper and red pepper to taste               
  • 1 tablespoon flour

Meat Pie Crust

  • 1 quart plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup shortening + 1 T
  • 1 cup milk

Instructions

Melt shortening in heavy pot.  Add meat. Cook until pink is gone.

Add vegetables and season to taste.  (Season well, as meat will lose seasoning during frying.)  When meat is completely done and vegetables glazed, remove from heat and drain excess liquid. 

Stir in 1 tablespoon flour.

Sift dry ingredients together.  Cut in shortening.  Beat egg and add to milk.  Work gradually into dry ingredients until proper consistency to roll. 

Break into small pieces and roll very thin.  Cut into rounds using a saucer as a guide.

To assemble:

Place a large tablespoon of prepared meat along edge and halfway in the center of round dough. 

Fold the other half over, making edges meet and seal with water. 

Form edges with fork. 

Drop in deep fat and  cook until golden brown. 

Drain and serve hot. 

Makes approximately  18.

Meat Pie

36th Annual Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival

2015-Folk Life FestivalI've been invited back to participate in the 36th Annual Natchiotches-NSU Folk Festival this year.

The 2015 NSU Folk Festival will be held July 17-18, 2015 at Prather Coliseum on the campus of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana.  The festival hours for Friday are 4:30 p.m. until 11:15 p.m. and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m.

The festival theme is "Backroads and Bayous: Celebrating Louisiana's Rural Folklife." There will be great music, food, crafts, learning sessions and the State Fiddle Championship.

Come visit my booth at the festival, say hi and check out my books.

 

 

Seawall Scene in Second Chance

Jordan Sander's Entry Form

I was digging around on my workspace and came across the paper shown in the picture. That's from a drawing that was done a few years ago at the NSU-Natchitoches Folk Festival.

My kids and their assorted friends, girlfriends and future son in law attended as well. One of these was a good friend of my sons', Jordan Sanders.

Jordan was a great kid who often hung out at our house even after our sons had moved away to college. It wasn't unusual for him to drop by when he needed a break from school and hang out here, watching TV, napping or visiting.

Unfortunately, the world lost Jordan way too young when his cancer popped up again.

I'd chosen Jordan's name out of the slips people had dropped into the box purely by luck and he didn't make it long enough to see the final result. The drawing was actually going to be for a character in the Junebug series but I wrote Second Chance when Junebug and the Monkey stalled out (I still need to get back to it) and Jordan has a small but prominent place in Second Chance.

Look for him skateboarding with the twins on the Seawall in the book. Jennifer and Spencer can't see him, but Noah can.

We miss you Jordan.