The Tale of “Oklahoma Grandma”
I grew up hearing the tale of Mary Louisa Roberts, my great-great grandmother–a red-headed, feisty, and determined woman who successfully staked claim to one-hundred sixty acres in what later became part of Oklahoma.
Her hard-drinking and “rounder” husband, Tuck, made a poor decision to seek gold in Colorado, leaving Mary and her young son, Charles Wesley to fend for themselves. Not being one to give up on life so easily, Mary secured a horse and rode out in the 1893 Cherokee Land Strip Run, one of the last New Territory land races. But that was only the beginning …
She homesteaded in the wide open plains, lived in a sod house, tilled land that preferred insects, wild animals, and dust, and survived harsh winters and scalding summers … all at a time when a woman, especially one alone, succeeded at what was nearly impossible. Later, she became one of Oklahoma’s first school teachers, and eventually lived to a ripe old age, just days short of her eighty-fourth birthday.
Becoming a Book
When I first began researching for RUSH, my second historical novel, I poured through old letters, records, and maps, read books and articles, visited sites in Oklahoma, and listened to family member’s recollections and retellings. At first, I wasn’t sure how much fact about my ancestor’s life would be woven into the story. To my pleasant surprise, a great amount of RUSH is true.
The reason is simple. There’s something special about the past that draws us in– the people and their real life struggles and celebrations that reach across the generations and embrace us like we’ve stepped into a long overdue family reunion. The past wraps us up like an heirloom quilt—a reminder, that in whatever way, we are part of it. There’s story embedded in those bygone years, and once unearthed, life pulses, ready to be enjoyed by those living in the present and for those in the future.
Joy in the Journey
One of the most fascinating parts for me about writing fiction is the story’s inception–that miraculous time and place when a story seed begins to grow. First, a tiny seed lifts, unnoticeable and seemingly lifeless. Then, it’s carried on the winds of feasibility for days, weeks, months, or even years as it whisks across the landscape of the mind. Eventually, if it’s destined to be told, it settles into the fertile ground of imagination where characters, plot, setting, conflict, and resolution take root. Add an abundance of dedication, shower it with hard work, and enlighten it with a willingness to weed out the rot and nurture the good. That’s how a story grows in my writing garden, and RUSH, for well over one hundred years, was patiently waiting to be told.
RUSH releases November 1, 2017 …
And after a quick math equation, I realized to be exact, one-hundred twenty-four years later, Mary Louisa Roberts’ granddaughter–me, one who’s privileged to dangle from a lower branch on the family tree–is sharing her double “great” grandmother’s story in a book. My guess is that thought never crossed her mind as she edged up to the starting line alongside thousands of other people seeking land, prosperity, and a new life.
So be on the watch. I’ll be sharing more photos, history, story excerpts, and insights into bringing the book to life through the publication process in upcoming blogs and on my website. More than anything, a heartfelt “thanks” for journeying back in time with me to grab hold of an important piece of America’s history. It’s going to be a wild and exciting ride!
In the meanwhile, if you have a family story to share in the comments, even if it’s a seed, please do!
Jayme H. Mansfield is an author, artist, and educator—and feels a bit incomplete when she’s not juggling all three balls. An award-winning author, her debut book Chasing the Butterfly, is a book club favorite and Amazon bestseller. Based on a true family story that begs to be told, RUSH provides a tension-filled, moving tale of a pioneer woman’s determination to survive.
She and her husband live near the base of the beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountains, having survived raising three hungry, hockey-playing sons. Currently, a very needy Golden Retriever runs the roost. When Jayme isn’t writing, she teaches art to children and adults at her long-time art studio, Piggy Toes. Stay in touch Jayme on Twitter @JaymeMansfield and on her author Facebook, JaymeHMansfield