Ken Burns beat me to her, but not for lack of trying on my part

Being an aficionado of America’s national parks, I waited anxiously for Ken Burns’ new miniseries for PBS, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Then when it finally aired last September, I thought they’d never get past John Muir and Yosemite, to my park, the first real national park (I really should write about that controversy sometime, too).

The series’ coverage of Yellowstone was not quite what I had envisioned, but then as someone who’s been reading about the park and researching some of its odder bits of history for the better part of a decade, it hardly could have been. I was pleased that they quoted Kipling from his visit in 1889, even if he wasn’t overly thrilled with the Grand Tour and, heresy of heresies, did not like the geysers. I was astonished that they managed to slide right past the early days of the park without so much as a mention of Philetus Norris, quite a feat considering how many park landmarks he named after himself (Norris was an early civilian park superintendent who began the rudiments of the park’s road system during his brief tenure).

But, much to my extremely pleased surprise, they quoted Emma Cowan and told her story. Who? She is the heroine of Repeating History, my as-yet-unpublished historical novel set in Yellowstone National Park. PBS’s website has a lovely video of slides and narration here.

My fictional Emma rescues Chuck, the hero of my story, after he’s been thrown back in time into the middle of an Indian war, and they join forces to escape and find their way back to civilization.

In spite of the information kiosk by the side of the road near where the real Emma, her brother Frank, and her thirteen-year-old sister Ida were kidnapped, until the national park series no one I knew believed that my story, sans the time travel of course, was based on an actual historical incident.

So I say thank you, Mr. Burns, even if you beat me to her. I think.

Categories: Repeating History, writing, Yellowstone | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Ken Burns beat me to her, but not for lack of trying on my part

  1. Isn't it wonderful when we find a tidbit of history that includes a woman! I can't wait for Emma's story to be told.

  2. It is. I'm currently working on the second book in the series, with a twenty-years-older Emma as one of the viewpoint characters.Now if I could just find a publisher…

  3. Until I read this, I had forgotten I had read about this incident before. I think I read about it while at the museum bookstore in Helena, MT last summer. I don't remember if the woman's name was Emma, but I do remember the Nez Perce captured her and her companions on a vacation trip to Yellowstone. One of the men was killed, as I recall, but the rest were eventually released unharmed. Interesting! Eunice Boeve

  4. Sounds like Emma Cowan to me [g]. The man who was killed was from the other group of tourists who "interacted" with the Nez Perce that summer. Emma's husband was shot, but he was not killed (his survival was quite the story, too), at least not in real life (he does die in my novel).

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