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June 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

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Sixty miles an hour, windows rolled down, paved highway humming to the spin of tires, and I’m daydreaming about prairie flowers.

My hand rests on the steering wheel while I follow the truck and trailer in front of me. This must have been the view of pioneer women, only the pace much slower and the landscape emptier. No road signs to follow; only wagon ruts cut through the rolling hills. No modern rest stops or gas stations with odd names like Kum & Go; only free fuel for the oxen and skirts for privy privacy. When Mary Green McCanles followed her brother-in-law’s family out to Nebraska Territory, what did she dream during the long drive?

It’s easy to lump “pioneer women” into generic categories like loaves of commercial bread — you can barely discern a difference between white or wheat. In my mind, I recite the different prairie flowers to bloom during my stay in Kansas and focus on color, height and texture. Each one has a different season, grows in different soil and might even have surprising purposes. So it was with the women. My appreciation for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books about her pioneer years renews. She took the time to cast each character in a unique role. Laura was different from her mother, sisters and peers. Each was her own prairie flower within the settler ecosystem.

When I became interested in telling the Rock Creek event between two historic men, I wondered if I’d have anything new to say about July 12, 1861. James Butler Hickok has been thoroughly investigated by British historian, Joseph Rosa. Often accused of being yet another fancier of Hickok mythology, Rosa had a sharp mind and a ready pen. Best of all, he did due diligence in his research, something his peers and predecessors did not do as thoroughly. When anyone called out Rosa for his disclosures or discoveries on Hickok, he readily responded and editorial battles ensued in western history associations and magazines for all the world to read. And Rosa supplied evidence for his claims or counter-strikes.

However, when it came to David Colbert “Cobb” McCanles, Rosa pulled from the error and gossip filled annuals he corrected for Hickok, but not for Cobb. I understand. Rosa’s lifelong focus was Hickok, and that’s why no one expects anything new to be discovered. At first I felt annoyed that McCanles didn’t receive fair scrutiny. While his grandson attempted to “set the record straight” after seeing his family name besmirched in dime store novels and Hollywood westerns, the result was an over-correction. Who was D.C. McCanles? It depends upon which faction one reads, but each side has gaping holes in documentation.

Early on, I wrote the man as a character in a white hat, then black. But it wasn’t until I picked up on how the women would have seen him that the story came to life.

Like many before me, I first saw the pioneer women of Rock Creek in general terms — the wife, the former mistress and the station manager’s common-law wife. The wife/mistress tension had been played out ad nauseam and the more I wrote into the story, the less it held up as the linchpin to the events of July 12, 1861. I couldn’t find out much about the station manager’s wife. I felt if I could peer into the lives and minds of these women like a botanist scoping prairie flowers, I could understand better what happened that fateful day. I could come up with something new like Rosa had.

Women get lost in the records, often because of name changes. Thankfully Mary (the wife) had sons, and I could track her whereabouts through their names. After all, she did remarry. Sarah Shull also remarried, and other historians discovered her married name and subsequent locations, but they fixated on an imagined love triangle between her, Hickok and Cobb. Because it annoyed me that the lover’s spat angle was cliched and yet another way to diminish the expression of women on the frontier as anything else other than wives or whores, I followed the leads that pointed to Sarah’s profession. The pioneer was an accomplished accountant and store-keep. Given Cobb’s interest to expand his business holdings, it places Sarah in another role.

Jane Holmes was the hardest to research. We know through oral accounts she was the daughter of Joseph Holmes, a frontiersman and carpenter. She is also documented as being the common-law wife of the Pony Express station manager, Horace Wellman. She might be the young unmarried woman with an infant listed in the Joseph Holmes household of the 1860 territorial census. Her name is Nancy J. Nothing can be found of her before or after Rock Creek. Nor can I find a likeness of the sort of woman she might have been among the more proper journals, diaries and scrapbooks of pioneer women. She’s my imagined free spirit.

Research, writing and daydreaming has been my Rock Creek dance. I’m not penning a biography like Rosa did, but I will take a page from his strategy book. While thumbing through the crisp, brown and musty ledgers of the Kansas State Archives, I used Hickok as an entry point once I couldn’t find anything relating to my principal women. That led me to Rosa’s research. I mean, his actual research he himself did at the Kansas State Archives for decades. For 20 years he did all his research from London, writing correspondence with the state historians. After that he traveled to the Midwest annually to research for 30 days, his holiday. Once he began to publish, he stood on solid documentation. Like Rosa, my fiction will stand upon solid research.

Unlike Rosa, I dream the gaps. I drive and daydream of prairie flowers, digesting what I discovered in Rock Creek on this trip.

Mary, deepened in character when I gave her a competitive edge over Sarah to wield like power. Cobb’s father wrote of Mary’s vivaciousness and a photo no historian has ever published in a book about Rock Creek shows her to be a gorgeous young woman at the time of the incident. But what else? Even the prairie rose has more to offer than beauty. I learned several stories, digging into old pioneer accounts about the era after the Rock Creek incident. One, told by her two children Cling and Lizza (as “old-timers”) recounts how they grew up playing with the Otoe-Missouri children near Rock Creek. Cling says his mother traded with them.

In a second account in another book, Mary features in an obscure incident involving the Otoe-Missouri tribe. They often stopped at her ranch, even wounded. Further, the author relates a simple passage: “Mary often walked the trails alone and at night to midwife and doctor folks.” Not only was she not afraid of the “redman” her neighbors often feared, she took care of them as a prairie doctor. This rose suddenly bloomed in my mind, and I daydreamed about Mary and what her life was like and how she became a lone woman on the prairie, doctoring and delivering babies no matter the origins. No wonder many lovingly called her Grandma McCanles in her old age. No wonder proper history overlooked her improper activities.

A third story related to me by a local historian was that Mary’s second husband divorced her because of infidelity. She said I could find it in the county records. Not that it pertains to the events in my book, but it certainly colors the character of Mary who has only her first name inscribed upon her gravestone above “Wife of D. C. McCanles.” I once thought perhaps she was uncertain of who she was — a Green, a McCanles or a Hughes. No, I think she knew exactly who she was and didn’t require the name of a father or spouse to legitimize her life in death.

Another conclusion I drew from experiencing Rock Creek in person was that Nancy Jane might be missing from the records, but she served an important role in life. She was friend to Sarah Shull, and able to reinvent herself. I suspect her next relationship was that of marriage. The wildest of the three might have assimilated into a proper life. But I like to imagine her racing a horse across the hard-packed earth with hair as wind-whipped as mine while journeying north. She did not fear change. She might have been a bit like Calamity Jane whom Hickok treated kindly later in life. Newspapers and records might have missed their lives, but the women of Rock Creek live on in my dreams.

This week, Rough Writer and author, Ruchira Khanna, has offered a guest prompt. I’d like to pause, near the end of a long journey (or at least a rest stop) to thank everyone at Carrot Ranch for carrying on while I traverse the trails. Especially, I’d like to thank Norah Colvin, D. Avery and Ruchira Khana for stepping up to ranch chores. I’ll catch up with you all once settled on the healing shores of Lake Superior. Keep writing, keep pushing on, and happy trails to you all.

June 22, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a dream. This action could have happened while awake, such as daydreaming, or make up a dream when asleep. Go where the prompt leads as it could be a nightmare or just fond memories or ambition.

Respond by June 27, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 28). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Lost in a Dream (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Young Sally stirred the bean pot and twittered about lace she’d seen in Beatrice. Sarah saw herself as if in a dream, a memory vividly sketched in mind but dormant for years.

“Beans look ready Miss Sarah?”

Her hands, no longer stiff and aged, trembled at what she knew came next. She heard herself repeat words from 70 years ago. “Check one.”

Sally blew on the wooden spoon, a lone pinto perched in thin liquid. Bread cooled next to churned butter and wild plum jam.

Sarah succumbed to the memory of the day. There never was a last supper.

###

 


184 Comments

  1. […] For: June 22: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt: https://carrotranch.com/2017/06/23/june-22-flash-fiction-challenge-2/ […]

    Liked by 2 people

  3. […] Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. June 22, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a dream. This action could have happened while awake, such as daydreaming, or make up a dream when asleep. Go where the prompt leads as it could be a nightmare or just fond memories or ambition. […]

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks for the prompt! I may offer a second one as this isn’t as fictional as I would like.
    https://saschadarlington.me/2017/06/23/dream-crashers-amwriting/#more-23769

    Liked by 4 people

  5. […] Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. June 22, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a dream. This action could have happened while awake, such as daydreaming, or make up a dream when asleep. Go where the prompt leads as it could be a nightmare or just fond memories or ambition. […]

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I did a second one, definitely fictional, but with a similar theme. Thanks.
    https://saschadarlington.me/2017/06/23/visitations/

    Liked by 5 people

  7. kittysverses says:

    Thank you for running the challenge Charli Mills. You may have a look at mine at https://kittysverses.wordpress.com/2017/06/23/yet-another-day
    Thank you all for stopping by and reading.

    Liked by 7 people

  8. Norah says:

    How wonderful to have gleaned so much from Rock Creek, for Rock Creek, a fiction based on fact. I am intrigued by the perspective you are taking on it, and am delighted to see you breathing life into the womenfolk. I am intrigued by this dream-like end to Sarah’s long life. I’m sure you have written a previous piece where she hears horses bringing her love to her. Or am I mistaken? I’m sure the gaps that remain will soon be filled. The analogy to prairie flowers is a good one, each an individual.
    I like this prompt a little more than a few previous ones. I hope I can do it justice, and not just in my dreams. 🙂 Travel well.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. […] Carrot Ranch Communications […]

    Liked by 1 person

  10. idyllsoftheking says:

    Dream as in ambition, I suppose. I almost lost the thread of the prompt once I got going: https://upagainstmortality.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/dawn-noon-dusk/

    Liked by 5 people

  11. […] to another 99-word flash piece, inspired by the prompt over at Carrot Ranch: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a dream. This action could have […]

    Liked by 1 person

  12. denmaniacs4 says:

    The Dream Tweeter

    “She’s finally asleep.”

    “You sure? She fakes it sometimes.”

    “I lingered awhile. Just watching…if she’s a faker, she’s damn good at it.”

    “She tell you the story?”

    “Story…?”

    “That thingee she’s been rambling on about…the dream tweeter, the goblin who steals dreams and then tweets them to God knows where.”

    “Yeah, she mentioned him. It?”

    “It about covers it. I think she’s been watching too much television…especially cable news. She doesn’t even know what a tweet is.”

    “Who does. I mean, what’s the actual point of twitter.”

    “Well, by some measure, its purpose is to keep the President sedated.”

    http://www.engleson.ca

    Liked by 9 people

  13. Transmission to Transition by D. Avery

    “Kid, you gotta grin a mile long on that face a yours.”
    “‘Less I’m dreamin’, Shorty’s back!”
    “Yep, I saw. She brought us flowers from the prairie, by gosh.”
    “She’s been on walkabout.”
    “Walkabout? You been talkin’ with Aussie?”
    “Well, it has been kind of a vision quest for Shorty, ain’t it?”
    “I reckon so. She’s been runnin’ down a dream alright.”
    “Well now what?”
    “There’s work involved in a dream coming true, Kid.”
    “I know. What can we do to help?”
    “Shorty will keep us posted. In the mean time, dream along.”
    “Dreamin’ big as a prairie sky!”

    Liked by 9 people

  14. […] Six Sentence stories this week, cue word well. Also posing as a 99 word response to Carrot Ranch June 22 prompt, […]

    Liked by 1 person

  15. https://shiftnshake.wordpress.com

    Sorry, I am having trouble dreaming up anything original this week. Used the prompt to continue another story line…

    Liked by 2 people

  16. […] June 22: Flash Fiction Challenge June 22, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a dream. This action could have happened while awake, such as daydreaming, or make up a dream when asleep. Go where the prompt leads as it could be a nightmare or just fond memories or ambition. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  17. julespaige says:

    Charli,

    I think we all have a bit of pioneer spirit willing to trod through the path of words when we are so often unsure of where they will lead us.

    History is often one sided. Her story often left out. Spotty internet isn’t letting me catch up as much as I had wanted. So I’ll have to wait until Tuesday to do that. As we’ll be on the road most of tomorrow.

    I went with a dream while mashing prompts and adding to Janice vs Richard: Enjoy…

    El drac dels somnis
    (to see the word list and photo… the title should be the link…)

    (Janice vs Richard #11)

    Clothed in a neat kimono type wrapper, Janice felt there was
    nothing mundane about this dream. She’d been spirited off to
    a tentative safe house. There was no going backwards as far
    as escaping Richard was concerned. Even with attempting
    La gaudiere for the man – there couldn’t be even a partial
    reconciliation.

    Warm air vented from the nostrils of the tree brown dragon
    that nudged her, as she patted its’ spine. Janice wasn’t
    opposed to staying in this dream and felt herself smile.

    The Dragon’s eye swirled into a scenic window of greenery.
    It was time to wake up.

    ©JP/dh

    Note: in Catalan La gaudiere translates into : Enjoy it.
    So I put my title in English “The Dream Dragon” and out came “El drac dels somnis”

    Liked by 8 people

  18. Did I miss the compilation for the “dawn” prompt? I saw the “games” one, but I thought that date was for dawn. I’m so confused!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Annecdotist says:

    Glad your real world researches have furthered your dreams, Charli, and I imagine we’d all like to leave the world like Sarah does. Old age must be a great time for dreaming.

    Thanks for the great prompt, Ruchira, which sent my mind spiralling through the uses and abuses of the unconscious, hallucinations and dreams in fiction director with a 99-word story about therapy:

    The unconscious, dreams and hallucinations in fiction http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/1/post/2017/06/the-unconscious-dreams-and-hallucinations-in-fiction.html

    Liked by 6 people

  20. Thank you Charli Mills for the challenging prompt and this is my contribution…….http://ideasolsi65.blogspot.in/2017/06/dream.html

    Liked by 4 people

  21. This might have gotten a little bit weird… Thank You Charli
    http://wp.me/p5u9VI-17l

    Liked by 4 people

  22. I sit in my arm chair like a cat, curled up in the sun. My book lays open but its words cannot capture my attention today. I am pulled under, into a dreamy state by warmth and comfort. I like to play there while the light dances on my eyelids giving my world an orange-red glow. I dream of sandy beaches, cool crystal blue water and a tanned lifeguard named Rico.
    “Mom?”
    Rico walks over to me, eyes inviting and warm.
    “MOM!”
    I ease my eyes open to address my interruption, “Yes?”
    “I can’t find my other frog slipper.”

    Liked by 6 people

  23. As other writing communities (i visit and contribute to..) change and begin to crumble or become an unhealthy place, begin to feel uncomfortable for sharing my writings…it is sure nice to have The Ranch.

    Thank you to all of you that keep this a safe and wonderful place to practice and share the craft. This truly is my favorite writing community.

    Here is my contribution for this week.

    Writing about The Island before Writing about The Island by Elliott Lyngreen

    The outfield was a road; curved. Another couple formed an unoccupied lot, an island which resembled a baseball diamond..

    Frontyards were HOMERUN territory.

    Relays came from manicured gardens, yard niches, overwhelmed ivy, realms in two-story architecture; swiftly from Murphy, swung to Fearns, divided down to Harold at the sidewalk crosshairs—pitcher’s mound—to goofy Darryl – who tags Stewart with a catcher’s mit.

    Bicycles.

    We knew John Zaciejewski’s garage code; for more gloves, bats, balls…; and his pool.

    Dreams never stood a chance for the Major Leagues.

    Yet immersed….from wonderous transition, to awake neck hairs softly tingled.

    Formed as literature.

    Liked by 7 people

  24. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (06/22/2017): In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a dream. This action could have happened while awake, such as daydreaming, or make up a dream when asleep. Go where the prompt leads as it could be a nightmare or just fond memories or ambition. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  25. To sleep, perchance to dream. Aye, there’s the rub…

    My offering for this week:

    Sharing Dream Time

    She rolls in flickering blue and white, darts between other bodies, slick and shining, touching but not colliding. Breaching, she leaps into the moon, heavy with promised bounty. She swallows silver light, joyfully sated as it fills her center.

    Deep drumbeats increase in speed and volume, drawing near. Writhing and diving, she hides from grey and black shadows that slash and shred. In an eyeblink, Moon’s soft rays hang bloody between wicked spearhead teeth.

    She wakes, wiping salt tears from her son’s eyes. Repeated night terrors; she no longer knows if he’s sharing her dream, or she’s sharing his.

    https://huldermn.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/sharing-dream-time/

    Liked by 5 people

  26. Deep Sleep by D. Avery

    The stone dreamt of grinding ice and was not afraid; dreamt of twisting transforming heat and was not afraid; dreamt of the crushing weight of oceans, and was not afraid; dreamt of the acidic embrace of mosses and was not afraid. The stone dreamt it was asleep and dreaming that it was asleep and dreaming of timelessness and fearlessness. The stone dreamt that it was the earth, that it was the universe, that it was a tossed pebble.

    She awakened suddenly, slowly, acclimating herself to her limbs, her body, to the return from having dreamt of being a stone.

    Liked by 6 people

  27. […]  Carrot Ranch; June 22, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a dream. This action could have happened while awake, such as daydreaming, or make up a dream when asleep. Go where the prompt leads as it could be a nightmare or just fond memories or ambition. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  28. This is a fantastic flash! Personification of a stone is really brilliant. We pretty much become stone while we sleep. Wonderful. And fearless. Dreams are def fearless.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Family Sacrifice
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    The sight paralyzed Ward, a vestige of a nightmare brought to reality. They walked from the fog, cloaked figures wearing crosses that swung with each step. Faces once familiar contorted with fervor and undeterred purpose.

    Ward backed to his door, certain they would rip through their clothing to reveal their natures. Wolves, hungry for a kill, anxious to devour the weakest of the pack. Instead of howling, the lead man presented official documents to Ward. “We’ve come for the woman named Nina. Relinquish her, and there will be no trouble.”

    Nina. His secret sister. Sacrifice for his family’s safety.

    Liked by 7 people

  30. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills dreamed a dream and challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a dream. This action could have happened … […]

    Liked by 1 person

  31. […] week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a dream. This […]

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Joe Owens says:

    My wife and I took a trip on a local river in a pair of kayaks and life slowed down for a couple of hours. I can imagine what it was like to live when instant did not mean what it does now. I took a swing at the challenge: https://fictionplayground.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/but-i-can-have-a-dream-too-carrot-ranch-weekly-flash-062217/

    Liked by 5 people

  33. jeanne229 says:

    Another fascinating foray into the history you’ve uncovered. What a feat of discovery. It is very touching to read of the women beyond their archetypes of mother, whore, love interest, granny. Someday (soon I hope) I will lose myself in your book. Until then, like many people, I imagine the lives of the women who preceded me in my line: Ethel, Eleanor, Georgina, and the nameless ones stretching lost to time. I salute you, historian Charli. Beautiful flash, too. The older I grow, the more those memories of times past play out in my mind…with such vividness.
    Not sure I’ll get a flash in, but how knows? How uninviting my editing tasks for the day are!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Jeanne, I love that you can cite your maternal line, but so many of our female ancestors are only known to us in hints and intuition. Thank you for taking an interest in my histories. I hope, soon, I will emerge from it with something others can get lost in…but lost in a good way! Oh, yes, those editorial duties call for focus. Thanks for taking a play break. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  34. […] Somehow I scraped out some time to do a little something for the latest Carrot Ranch Communications prompt. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  35. […] Response to Carrot Ranch’s June 22 Flash Fiction Challenge: Dream […]

    Liked by 1 person

  36. dnagai says:

    Sharing somewhat reluctantly… this was a hard week for me!
    https://fledglingfictionblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/family-resignation/

    Liked by 4 people

  37. jeanne229 says:

    No time to do a full post, but here’s a flash , based on a long-ago dream that has never faded.

    The Spider

    Rain-washed light filtering through the glass doors. The snug kitchen dawning with the day. The woman pondering her dream.

    She’d been sitting in this kitchen. An egg, perfect in its pure, curved symmetry nestled in a china bowl before her.

    She cracked it open. The yolk dazzled. But it was not a yolk. It was a magnificent spider, its body a glinting gold topaz.

    In the waking world, she would have recoiled. She would have screamed.

    But in the dream she watched, smiling.

    Now it seemed a visitation, a hopeful omen, a sign. What did the jeweled spider portend?

    Liked by 5 people

  38. Charli Mills says:

    It’s 10 p.m. and the internet is shutting down! I’ll be back!

    Liked by 1 person

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