Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fort Laramie, Southern Midlands & Cain't

Today my research has been focused on ferreting out those small details I want to make my short story, "A Christmas Promise," believable. First, although I visited Fort Laramie last summer, I spent hours reading and perusing site maps to figure out where my character, Annie Murdock, may have lived when she was a laundress at the fort. Also, I found out where the non-commissioned officers lived.

The earlier 1867 map of the fort does not detail where either the married soldiers or the laundresses lived. The only structure across the footbridge was a hotel.

This map of the fort, made in 1888, 15 years after the setting of my story, shows the married men's quarters to be directly across the footbridge.

My character, Annie Murdock, was married to a soldier most of the time she was at the fort, so it would make sense that she lived in the area set aside for families of married soldiers. She might have been living in a tent or more temporary structure in the early 1870s, which is why it may not have shown on earlier the map.


Map from the Fort Laramie National Historic Archives
The map put together by the National Historical Archives shows laundress quarters across the footbridge, but does not indicate the time period. There was also another laundress location, now also in ruins, up next to the quarters for the non-commissioned officers and the sutler. However, since she was married with two children, I figure she would have lived in location 29 on this map.






My second area of details I worked on today was dialect. Annie and her late husband came from western Kentucky, the region where it was truly brother against brother during the time of the Civil War. Annie's late husband, Daniel Murdock, fought for the Union while her brother and father fought for the Confederacy. This was not the Appalachia region which has its own distinct dialect, a favorite of historical novelist. It falls into the Southern Midlands dialect group. What an adventure ferreting out exactly what speech patterns and words belong to that dialect!

When I wrote this story, deciding I just needed to write it and go back to check the dialect later, I incorporated a lot of words and speech patterns my husband uses. He was raised by family who came from the "old country" of western Arkansas and Northern Texas to California during the dust bowl era. One word he pronounces quite distinctively is "cain't." I used it in my story.

Well, folks, that word is coming out of my manuscript. From what I have been able to discover, "cain't" is a Southern word, not a Southern Midlands word. I'll save it for a story with redneck characters.

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