One Came Home, my western about a thirteen-year old girl who sets off to find her presumed-dead sister, is set in 1871 in southwestern Wisconsin. Let me be honest: I love the twenty-first century: I use an iPhone, and am conversant in iTunesian, and App-uguese. I wear technical outdoor clothing as my fingers scale the heights of a Qwerty keyboard. I struggle with email overload and couldn’t chop a cord of wood if you asked me. So me, Amy Timberlake, writing about 1871 Wisconsin? It’s a stretch — and a big one. How did I get myself back there? Here’s a list of a few sources that helped me take that step back in time:
Imagining an extinct species takes some doing. I wouldn’t have been able to do it at all without A. W. Schorger, The Passenger Pigeon. But I also used lots of images — drawings and photographs of passenger pigeons (of course), and then images that made me feel something of what it might have been like to experience the birds (the artist M.C. Escher for instance).
- Here’s my Pinterest page of pigeon inspirations
- and here’s one of the Vimeo videos that I found particularly inspiring:
1871 Wisconsin Life?
One bit of luck here was finding H.H. Bennett. He was a photographer who lived in Kilburn, Wisconsin (now known as Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin) during the time period. I also used the geography of the Wisconsin Dells for my setting. (The town of Placid is completely fictionalized).
Here's a photograph of his son (yes, his son) leaping between sandstone towers.
Now here’s a bit of text from One Came Home:
“I tried to calm myself by focusing my eyes and thoughts on the Wisconsin River, a ribbon of which was visible . . . I noted the location of all that I knew to be there: the sandstone that lined the banks and piled yellow, tan and red, like giant pancake stacks; the cave that summer visitors carved their names into; the teapot islands with their pine-tree lids; and the spires that balanced rocks at their point.”
You can see for yourself in the work of H.H. Bennett, this is truly what the area looked like:
- Wisconsin Historical Society/ H.H. Bennett. Look for Kilburn, Wisconsin in the archives.
- Do a Google Search for H.H. Bennett and click on images: You’ll see many of the Kilburn, Wisconsin images.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin is well-worth a visit, but you should know that the sandstone formations are not as visible today as they were in Bennett’s day. Sadly, in the early nineteenth century, the Wisconsin River was dammed and raised water levels by dozens of feet, so if you want to see this world in 1871 you have to use Bennett’s photographs.
Is There a Soundtrack for One Came Home?
Yup, got one of those too! This was a book built on the music of The Punch Brothers. Enjoy!