Monday, July 18, 2011

Fact and Fiction

By John Fierst

The Clarke Library has a rich collection of books and manuscripts related to the history of the Old Northwest, and you will find in that collection many rare first editions that were published before Michigan became a state in 1837, when it was still considered a northern territory. Michigan Territory at the time included all of Wisconsin and half of Minnesota. 

We make an effort to add to our collection in this area of history whenever we can, though it is hard to find published primary sources—i.e., published letters, journals, and firsthand accounts—that we don’t already own.  Besides primary sources, we also watch for and collect current secondary sources published on the Old Northwest, such as Alan Taylor’s recent The Civil War of 1812.  

This spring we ordered for the library a novel entitled Blacksnakes’s Path: The True Adventures of William Wells. Wells is familiar to anyone with an interest in the early history of the Old Northwest.  The Miami Indians, who took thirteen year old Wells captive in 1784 and raised him, named him Blacksnake.  Wells, or Blacksnake, married the daughter of Little Turtle and fought against the American armies sent into Ohio in the early 1790s.  He later switched sides, joining with the Americans and serving as a scout for General “Mad” Anthony Wayne. He was with Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, and he acted as an interpreter at the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, which brought the Indian wars in Ohio to a close. It is not our practice to purchase historical fiction, but this thoroughly researched book is different.  It is history written as fiction by a very capable historian, William Heath, and it brings together in a coherent narrative events of the period that are often treated disparately. The section “Afterword and Notes” provides an excellent starting point for readers with a burgeoning interest in this period of history.  The book should appeal to anyone who enjoys imaginative writing that is grounded in, and remains true to, the historical record.