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Cowboys and Indians and Cowgirls and Horses

May 12, 2012

In growing up, I played a game called ‘Cowboys and Indians’ with my siblings, cousins and friends. Have you ever heard of that action-packed thriller? Did you ever play that interactive, intense, improvisational and interplay game as a kid like I did? If you are older than ‘political correctness’ and grew up in North America, I figure you might have. Of course, that old game name conjures up the old typical ‘good cowboy (or US Cavalry) versus bad Injun’ movie or show I suppose, though back in the day, in my day as a kid, there were the few token ‘good Indians’ in TV and movie-land from time to time. Now, the way most of our friends expected to play the game, was that whomever were the Indians were the ‘bad guys’ and would lose, and so most kids wanted to be the cowboys or Cavalry so they would be the good guys and of course the ultimate winners, as they supposed. My older brother and I, in particular, didn’t see it that way. As proud Algonquian and Pocahontas descendents, we always wanted to ‘be’ the Indians, and we always were determined to ‘win’ every war we were in. And we did. As far as I can recall, anyhow.

And then came ‘Dances With Wolves’. Oh my Western Indian goodness! A bunch of us Bennett Pocahontas descendants were in Native American Heaven on earth. Here was a Western we could really love, over and over and over again. I cannot tell you how many times my sister and I went to that movie, wearing more and more of our feathers and beads each time. And then of course we bought the movie a few times over as better ‘sets’ came out. I watch it every year for my birthday. Maybe I only have a few freckles worth of Indian blood left in my quite white veins, but in growing up that was enough to make me feel ‘full Indian and proud of it!’ from early childhood on. I embraced that little Indian within with all my heart. And even though my foster Blackfoot brother and Cree sister were only living with us a total of a few years together, I loved and still love them each like my own blood kin. Along the way I also made friends of various Native Americans from other tribes (from Canada to the United States), and for at least a couple of years, my oldest son was like family to many Navajo people in New Mexico. In general, I can say that I adore the First Nations people of Canada and the Native Nations of America and I hope for better and better things for each and all of them.

I grew up wanting to be a cowgirl even as I embraced the ‘Indian’ within. I loved horses like I cannot describe. I lived, breathed, ate and dreamed horses. One-horned unicorn and winged Pegasus/Pegasi horses too. Mostly, I was a flying horse in my dreams. My sister probably actually thought she was a real honest-to-goodness horse for a few years there, possibly due to my strong horse influence. Well, we did eat raw cold oats out of bowls we placed on the kitchen floor, daily kneeling like little kiddy horses. That was my wacky idea. I was horse nutty. We neighed liked horses. We watched and listened to them intently on our grandparents’ and cousins’ ranch style farms and practiced our horse noises seriously and faithfully. In my first grade at school, I started a horse herd. Anybody who wanted to, could join us all in running around, neighing and snorting, tossing our ponytails (if they had them), pawing at the ground with our foot hooves and pretending anyone not in the herd was likely out to get us – ‘bad guys’, cougars and wolves alike. I went to that first school for one year, but I heard that my horse herd there lived on without me long after I was gone. I started a new horse herd at the new school, and that ‘many girls and some boys’ equine group lived on beyond my younger sister’s takeover of it a few years later. I suppose that was my childhood horse herd legacy. And I am pony proud of it on both counts.

I have always been on the hunt for a good ‘Western’ movie. I have always yearned for ‘better Westerns’. Yes, I love watching the horses no matter the story. No, I don’t mind a good gun fight or two in the movie. Nothing too graphic, though. Of course, I want a little romance in there somewhere, and I want a girl I can identify with. In theory, I always loved Westerns, but was most often left at least a little wanting in a way. Sometimes they seem made mostly for men. Where was ‘my’ bigger part of the story? There were elements I didn’t like about many Westerns, like the excessive gunfire, the chronic saloon brawls, the jolly focus on destructive gambling, the token brothel business, or the annoying prostitute ‘ladies’ with supposed hearts of gold. I can’t identify with a woman who sells herself like that. I just simply cannot. I never could. And I certainly don’t wish to.

I want to write Westerns for Women. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, or at least I’ve been swaying in that direction in a way. Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters or Elizabeth Gaskell go west. Nineteenth Century English Feminine literature, gone to the North American western wilds. What I love best about classic eighteen hundreds relationship and romance stories, meets most of what was good about the west and western stories. Regency and Victorian morals and mores meet rugged individualism on horseback (or in a buggy or wagon). After all, in all the historical reading that I’ve done about the west, that was more what it was really like. There were ladies and gentlemen out west. Yes, there were. And most people who were packing kept their guns in their holsters, just like nowadays. There were plenty of good folk in the old days, even in the wild west. It wasn’t usually quite as wild as many movie westerns have portrayed. Yes, of course there were villains and such, and some people did get shot or robbed,  but, I don’t want the ‘bad guys or girls’ glorified. I don’t like to see the brothel portrayed as a lovely place to meet your true love. And I don’t want to write a love story between a gunslinger robber murderer and his kind darling prostitute. Nope. Not in my books. I prefer to take what I love about Austen, Bronte and Gaskell works and set those kinds of characters and stories out in the American West. Because, you see, that is how I have always pictured those olden days.

Now, to finally get to one key and pertinent point of this post. If not of cowgirls per say, my first eight novels were of young virtuous ladies moving or living out west, more or less, but on this ninth novel of mine, I have gone ‘Indian’ so to speak. This character and story has been in the works for a number of years. A few more rewrites and she will finally be getting her ‘coming out party’ around the corner. I’m still holding my cards close on this beloved one, but I wanted to share that this novel has a strong Native American element, as an ode to my Pocahontas and other Algonquian and similar ancestry, and an honoring nod to my foster siblings, friends and others amongst the many ‘first nations peoples’ of North America. Blessings, prosperity and longevity to you all.

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