Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Minnesota River Valley Trail

I have to give kudos, props, and a big thank you to my husband here. We traveled several hundred miles up the MN River Valley to research and explore the setting of my new novel. He took pictures, drove us to see the sites and sights. Oh, and I have a working title for the book too. Drums of the North Star.

On Saturday we drove west to the German town of New Ulm. We stopped at the Brown County Historical Society museum, housed in a beautiful building of Bavarian background. (How's that for alliteration?) We learned about buffalo heads, hoopskirts, butter and beer.

Then we went northwest out of New Ulm to the Harkin Store. This was the second visit to this museum for my daughter and me, but a first for my husband and son. The Harkin Store is a vintage 1870's general store and post office run by the MN Historical Society. I love this little store. A significant portion of the inventory is authentic 1870's goods from the store itself. The rest are reproductions of items that would have been carried in the store.

A bit of a sad note. Last year when we visited the Harkin Store, we were given a terrific tour by a young man named Scott. He was a history teacher in New Ulm and a Civil war enthusiast and re-enactor. He made us feel as if, when we asked a question, it was the first time he'd heard it. He took out a price list and showed us what things would have cost in the store in 1870, told stories of the original owner and the now extinct town, and introduced me to the history of the Dakota War of 1862 (the setting of the new novel.) His enthusiasm for the history of the Minnesota River Valley was contagious and sparked the idea for a novel. I was looking forward to meeting him again. When I asked after him, I was told he passed away last October at the age of 33. His legacy is the Wood Lake Battlefield Preservation Society.

We drove on to Redwood Falls, MN. On Sunday we visited the Lower Sioux Agency Interpretive Center where we toured the Galbraith warehouse and walked the Agency Trail. Peter and James took the Redwood Ferry trail (about a mile of straight up and down trails). We saw a terrific museum there as well.

Later on Sunday we went to the Redwood County Historical Society Museum. What we found there was more than 30 rooms crammed with stuff. With the exception of a small room devoted to Sears, who lived in Redwood Falls (though he was born in Stewartville, MN just south of here). I wish the items in the museum had been better cataloged and perhaps had more local interest stories attached to them. Instead it was a former poor farm turned nursing home piled with artifacts dated 1800's or 1900's.

Monday was a terrific day as well. Our first stop was the Birch Coulee Battlefield, scene of one of the most desperate battles of the Dakota War. We walked the trails of the battlefield, standing on the rise Big Eagle and his braves sheltered behind and looking down onto the open plain where the U.S. burial detail was pinned down for more than 30 hours. Seeing the landscape firsthand will hopefully aid me in adding rich detail to the novel.

We also went to Historic Fort Ridgely which was attacked twice during the war but stood firm. The commissary building is still standing and houses a very fine museum. The tour guide, Randy, was very informative as to the ordnance used at the fort, both small and large caliber. The kids dressed in soldier's uniforms and practiced loading a cannon. We walked the grounds, seeing the foundations of the buildings. the only building besides the commissary still standing is one of the ammunition cabins. Again it was so helpful to see the landscape and get a sense of distance and direction.

What a fun vacation. Now it's back to the grindstone and the schedule. We begin week five of school today, as well as resume piano lessons. New scenes or new layers to previously thought out scenes for Drums of the North Star are racing through my head, popping up at unexpected moments. I can't wait to begin the actual writing of this book.


  1. What a wonderful trip! I'm so glad you had a great time. I can't wait to hear bits and pieces of the new novel. Have fun composting!

  2. donnaalice7:36 PM

    It does sound like a super trip, very descriptive. I can't wait to begin reading the novel...love the title too!

    Doesn't it help to see the actual sights where your story will take place? Just enjoy the scenes and people beginning to act on the "stage" of your mind! The story will come---doesn't it always????

    And some chocolate would be nice to celebrate right about now.... Donna

  3. Sounds like you had a lot of fun! And I do love your title. That alone would cause me to pick up your book:)

  4. Hi Erica;
    I'm a frind of Donna's and popped in to see your blog. I have heard great things from Donna about you. I'm really impressed with your success. You book sound great and would like to read it. I'm writing a children's historical fiction about the American Revolution. I would like to go to Boston to get the feel of my book's setting; however, many of the sites are gone. I'm using old maps to describe the surroundings. Good luck on the book!!!!! By the way, I wanted to say that after reading your blog I can see that you are a very gifted writer!

  5. Maribeth, It's so nice to 'meet' you! Thank you for your kind comments, and I hope you enjoy the blog.