Across the Great Divide, Guest Post by Michael L. Ross

Where do you go when home is no longer an option?

The guns of the Civil War have ceased firing, and the shots are but an echo… yet the war rages on, deep inside Will Crump’s soul. His “soldier’s heart” is searching for peace, and in that quest Will joins the westward movement, setting his path on a collision course with adventure, loss, and love.

The Westward Expansion floods the sacred, untouched lands with immigrants, bringing conflict to the Shoshone, Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. Amidst the chaos Will finds safety in the shadow of the US Army, but the army brings battle-hardened troops into Red Cloud’s War, pulling Will into a tornado of conflict. Broken treaties and promises leave both sides searching for answers. Will’s search leads him to a battle for survival, and there he finds a love that could change him forever.

Dove, a young Shoshone woman, is a survivor of the Bear Creek Massacre. After being kidnapped and escaping from the Cheyenne, she joins Will’s search, seeking where she belongs. Dove longs for more than the restricted role placed on women in her tribe. If she can learn to trust a white man, he just might help her find home… and hope.

Together, Will and Dove must search for understanding, and reach Across the Great Divide.

The History Behind the Story

I’m Michael L. Ross, guest posting on the blog today, talking about the history behind my book. My most recent novel is Across the Great Divide: Book 2 The Search, and is the second in the series. The first book was Clouds of War, following my main character Will Crump and his family through the Civil War.

William Dorsey Crump was a real historical person, Confederate soldier under John Hunt Morgan, and survivor of the Chicago Union prison Camp Douglas. I wrote a scholarly article about him for the Texas Historical Society, published in the Handbook of Texas Online. I knew Will’s granddaughter when I was a child and contacted his great-niece while writing the series.

Will fought many battles in the Civil War, but following the war, he disappears from history records for about five years, 1865-1870. The best family records and information say that he went west – as did so many following the war.

A topic that historians have only recently begun to explore is “soldier’s heart,” the nineteenth-century name for PTSD, in Civil War survivors. Many men turned to drink, insanity, and suicide.  Mental illness was socially unacceptable. Soldiers having hallucinations and flashbacks found themselves in prison or asylums.

Will’s frequent nightmares, guilt over men killed and lost, and flashbacks triggered by gunfire serve as the motivation for him to leave home and family in The Search, looking for peace, examining his belief in God, and hoping to understand himself. Will is twenty-one as the book opens. Waking from a nightmare about the war, he points a pistol at his little sister, scaring himself and his family. He fears that staying with them is not safe for them and takes to the road, looking to the Rockies, in a naïve hope for peace.

Will’s journey follows a sequence of Army massacres and broken promises. The Treaty of Laramie in 1858 was never honored or enforced. A flood of settlers and miners filled the Native American lands. The Bear River Massacre of January 29, 1863, was one of several significant massacres, including Sand Creek and Tongue River. Both Tongue River and Bear Creek are depicted in the book, as Will meets Dove, a young Shoshone woman who survived the Bear Creek Massacre. Bear Creek is one of the largest massacres of Native Americans in the nineteenth century but little-heralded in most history books. As part of the book’s research, I visited the massacre site near Preston, Idaho. I received a personal tour from Darren Parry, Chairman of the Northwestern Shoshone Band, whose ancestors were the victims. Darren teaches Native American history at the University of Utah and was a recent Congressional candidate. Darren is an endorser for The Search.

Bear River Massacre Site

Dove made her way to the Eastern Shoshone after the events of Bear Creek. At eighteen, a Cheyenne warrior kidnapped her, and she escapes when a grizzly kills her attacker, and Will rescues her from the raging bear.

General Patrick E. Connor was responsible for both Bear Creek and Tongue River. Prejudice against the Native Americans ran high, and Connor received a promotion for almost wiping out the Northwestern Shoshone on the Powder River Expedition. The Army recalls Connor when his statements about killing every Native American over twelve years old make it back to Washington. My editor asked, “How would they know which were over twelve?” In the heat of battle, they didn’t know. Soldiers were supposed to ignore women and children – but the Army shot women trying to swim the icy river with children on their backs.

Will wanders into the midst of Red Cloud’s War. The Sioux, Crow, and Arapaho were enemies of the Shoshone. The Sioux were on the rise in 1865, taking more hunting grounds from other tribes, as white settlement pressured them farther west and south.

The Army carried out a calculated program of genocide, killing the bison, and driving the Native Americans to reservations. The settlers and the Army on the Emigrant and Bozeman trails brought disease and viral infection that killed thousands, as the Native Americans had no natural immunity. Smallpox, measles, and typhoid raged through the tribes. “Many Native American tribes suffered high mortality and depopulation, averaging 25–50% of the tribes’ members lost to disease. Additionally, some smaller tribes neared extinction after facing a severely destructive spread of disease.”
– Waldman, Carl (2009). Atlas of the North American Indian. New York: Checkmark Books. p. 206

Library of Congress, Public Domain

Will follows Colonel Henry Carrington north on the Bozeman Trail to Fort Phil Kearney. Carrington was under pressure from Washington to defend the settlers moving west, the telegraph lines, and the mail routes, constructing a series of forts along the Bozeman Trail. He pretended to negotiate but intended to build the forts no matter what the Sioux or Shoshone said. Eventually, this led to the alliance of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho, culminating in the Fetterman fight.

Will and Dove fall in love during their travels, as he attempts to help her return to Chief Washakie’s band, aided by the wily mountain man Jim Bridger. Bridger and Washakie were friends, with Bridger having had a Shoshone wife. Bridger appears as a supporting character throughout most of the book.

Jim Bridger, Public Domain

Will must survive a test to win his love. The test is physical strength, endurance, ingenuity, and a trial of the human spirit. He retreats to Wolverine Peak, Wyoming, in an attempt to bring back the required prizes.

As The Search closes, Washakie sadly anticipates the flood of whites that will come and prepares for the onslaught. He has heard of Spotted Tail’s (Sioux) tour of the East and subsequent surrender. He knew military victory was impossible. Will must continue to search daily for the peace that comes from God.

Most events depicted in The Search happened as described. The inspiration for Dove’s kidnapping and journey home comes from the real-life kidnapping of Chief Pocatello’s mother. A warrior from a neighboring tribe took her, killed her child, and forced her to be his wife for two years. She fought her way back to her home, escaping and surviving a six hundred mile trek on foot through hostile territory. As Daren Parry says, many problems shown in The Search continue today. The Native American population is more susceptible to death from COVID, brought to them by the white people. And there are many Doves, kidnapped from home, that disappear, never to come home, as shown in the movie Wind River.

We all have to continue to search for a way to bridge the gap between races and cultures – Across the Great Divide.

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Meet Michael L. Ross

Best-selling author Michael Ross is a lover of history and great stories. He’s a retired software engineer turned author, with three children and five grandchildren, living in Newton, Kansas with his wife of forty years. He was born in Lubbock, Texas, and still loves Texas. The main character of “Across the Great Divide”, William Dorsey Crump, is one of the founders of Lubbock and Shallowater, Texas. Michael knew Will’s granddaughter when he was a child. He has written a scholarly article on Will Crump for the Texas Historical Society, published in the Handbook of Texas Online, and has sold short stories in the past. This is his first novel and the first in the Across the Great Divide series, now an Amazon bestseller.
Michael attended Rice University as an undergraduate, and Portland State University for his graduate degree. He has degrees in computer science, software engineering, and German. In his spare time, Michael loves to go fishing, riding horses, and play with his grandchildren, who are currently all under six years old.

He sees many parallels between the time of the Civil War and our divided nation of today. Sanctuary cities, immigration, arguments around the holiday table, threats of secession – all are nothing new. Sometimes, to understand the present, you have to look at the past- and reach Across the Great Divide.  

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