I write epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk. So what am I doing in the Weird Wild West Kickstarter anthology?
Well, technically, the Wild West happened during the ‘steampunk’ years—our Civil War era and Westward expansion happened while England was having its Victorian period.
And the two Department of Supernatural Investigation agents you may have met in my stories in Clockwork Universe: Steampunk Vs. Aliens and Dreams of Steel 5, who also play a big role in Iron and Blood (our new steampunk novel coming in July) would have been out West during part of the Cowboy Era.
But here’s the real connection—my parents were Sioux. No, really—I know I don’t look it, but it’s true. And here’s the story about how a city kid from Reading, PA fulfilled a life-long dream to witness a vanishing history, meet survivors from the Battle of Little Big Horn and get adopted into the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
My dad, Dr. Luther R. Zehner, was born in 1923, and he fell in love with Native American lore when he was growing up in a row house in the textile mill town of Reading. Wild West stories like the Lone Ranger and books by authors like Will James and Frank Linderman sparked his imagination. He was inspired by tales of adventurers and explorers who left the cities of the East and learned the ways and language of Native Americans, and that inspiration changed the course of his life.
Dad graduated from Juniata College and earned his medical degree from Hahnemann Medical College of Philadelphia. He finished his residency in Surgery at Harrisburg Hospital, Dr. Zehner married his college sweetheart, Frances—my mom–in August of 1949. Together, they headed for Standing Rock Reservation near Fort Yates, ND, where Dad had received a staff appointment as a physician in the reservation hospital, and Mom had been hired to teach in the reservation school. (This was 13 years before I was born, so I missed it!)
Mom and Dad fully embraced the culture of the Lakota (Sioux) with whom they worked. Dad learned to speak the Sioux language, and forged deep friendships with tribal elders Alex Sage, Patrick Rattling Hail and Judge Francis B. Zahn. It was at Standing Rock where they also met and became close personal friends with photographer Frank Bennett Fiske and he and his wife, Angela.
Dad sought out the oldest members of the tribe, and recorded their oral histories, encouraging them to recount legends and stories and to talk about life before the reservation. He recorded their songs and drumming on audio tape and with a film camera, and interviewed the survivors of the Battle of Little Big Horn, who were by then in their 90s. One of the most thrilling moments of his life was going out to the Custer battlefield with an elderly Native American battle survivor who gave him a first-hand account of what it was like on that day long ago.
Members of the tribe noted the passion and respect Dad and Mom had for their culture. Dad was also deeply aware that the legacy of the elders seemed to be slipping away in the busy post-war period. He began to purchase artifacts, documenting the history of the pieces in his journals and with his camera. He was particularly interested in pieces from the late 1900s and the early part of the Twentieth Century, and in items made according to the old ways by contemporary craftspeople.
In July of 1950, my parents were adopted into the Sioux tribe in a formal ceremony. Frank Fiske took photos of them dressed in full authentic ceremonial clothing. Custer battle survivor Spotted Bear “gave” Dad his tribal name so that Luther became “Spotted Bear.” Mom’s new name translated as “Morning Star.”
Mom passed away in 2009 at age 89, and Dad died at age 90 in 2013. He passed away just three weeks after a Native American delegation came to the nursing home where he resided to honor his birthday with drumming and dancing.
You can see the photo of Dad and Mom on their tribal adoption day , along with some fun graphics about the Weird Wild West anthology. And here’s the interview I did with the Weird Wild West publisher about my inspiration: https://especbooks.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/author-spotlight-gail-z-martin-the-weird-wild-west/
By the way—there’s still time to fund the anthology and get 12 extra rewards, including a sneak peek chapter from our new Iron and Blood novel, my Deadly Curiosities Adventures story Collector and The Final Death, as well as a 400 pg. steampunk & zombie book! There’s still time to jump on the covered wagon and pony up a couple of greenbacks!
Here’s the Weird Wild West Kickstarter link to learn more, see the rewards and become a backer: http://kck.st/1udizgM