Post written and copyrighted by Doris McCraw
I confess I have a hard time with the history some people write. I realize they are trying to sell books, that they believe what they are writing,making assumptions, but they can get it wrong. I spoke in the last post about ‘When it Ain’t Right’. Now I just have to talk about ‘Getting it Wrong’.
I shall use examples from the lives of three different people from history: Katharine Lee Bates, Helen (Hunt) Jackson and Wm. Barclay ‘Bat’ Masterson.
Starting with Katharine Lee Bates. Ms. Bates, who wrote the poem “America the Beautiful“, and was a teacher at Wellesley College. She is strongly associated with Pikes Peak and Colorado Springs. The truth, she only spent six weeks in the area while teaching at the Colorado Springs Summer School. Because some of the classes were on the Colorado College campus many people assume it was Colorado College summer school. Wrong. In addition she lived with her friend from college Catherine Komen, it is said she had relations with Catherine. If we use standards of today we would make that assumption, but without ‘proof’ it remains just that, an assumption that does not take into account the ‘society and action’ of the late 1890’s.
Helen (Hunt) Jackson, never used these three names together in her lifetime. Recently I read a book that said that Helen was having an affair with a married man and when he died she pursued her second husband. That would make a great fictional story, but I have my doubts about how the author validated such a statement. Just because you are friends with someone, take a drive or spend time with them, does not necessarily mean you are lovers. That is taking a personal and or current social concept and forcing it onto an earlier time. There was also a story that Helen’s first husband was having an affair with Emily Dickenson, who was a childhood friend of Helen’s. No real evidence that this is true, but without checking the sources of that information a historian could perpetuate the lie.
Finally Mr. Masterson. Here is the Old West hero in all his glory, at least according to legends. He was quick on the draw, fearless, etc. In truth, it seems that Masterson only had one shoot out in which he shot it out with another one on one. Most other incidents were in the line of duty as a law officer or in fights with Indians. He was more interested in boxing matches and gambling, from which he made a decent living. He died in New York at his desk at the newspaper office where he had written a column for a several years. Fortunately for Mr. Masterson he has a gifted biographer who really tries to tell the story based on facts with assumptions based on the time and circumstances of the time that Masterson lived.
If you are going to tell and write history, be aware of making assumptions based on little or no facts. We can’t help but filter the information through our own experiences, but to be good, try to leave yourself and ego from the page. Otherwise, use history as a tool to create great fiction, but be sure to label it as such, otherwise you are ‘Getting it Wrong’ in my opinion.
For more of what I do:
“Film & Photography on the Front Range” can be purchased online at: http://www.amazon.com