Updated: Aug 6, 2022
Fortunately during the 2 weeks I was home with Covid and Jack was recovering from a stomach bug, I could work on research for the new historical novel I want to write, It will be set first in Yucatan, Missouri, and then in Broken Bow, Oklahoma IndianTerritory in the early 1900’s. The plot will follow the skeleton of my grandparents lives, and will be told from my grandmother’s point of view, although the personality of the hero of the story will not be my grandmother’s, but a fictional character’s. My grandparent’s story was one of resilience, determination and adventure, leaving pogroms of Russia behind, making a success of their pioneer lives in America.
My grandfather, Poppy, as he was known to all the family, told me stories about the Choctaw Indians living in Oklahoma in those days, the years before Oklahoma became a state. I know that he met my Grandmother through the mail, when a Jewish merchant showed him her picture. They wrote, but only saw each other face to face the same day they married. The next day they moved to Broken Bow, in the foothills of the Kiamichi Mountains. Broken Bow started as a logging camp when timber was a cash crop at the turn of the century. The Choctaw Indians that populated the land had been moved there during the Trail of Tears. They were a peaceful people who bought fabric and other items at my grandparents’ dry goods store in town. But I had little information about the place other than those few tidbits. Mostly, I had questions. How did a couple of Jewish immigrants end up in Indian Territory? And why in the world did they stay for 23 years?
In order to write the book, I needed to know what life would have been like in rural Western Missouri, and subserquently in Indian Territory? My sister, Carol Kanter and I took a trip to Broken Bow about 8 years ago to see the place. What we discovered is that area of Southeastern Oklahoma still is nothing but trees,trees and more trees, with the poverty-stricken town of Broken Bow plunked down in the middle. Time had stopped there somewhere in the 1940’s when the larger cities like Tulsa and Oklahoma City flourished. We saw the history museum, the deed to property with my grandmother’s name on it, but we left without understanding how and why Poppy, the son of a line of Orthodox rabbis in Austria would have ever ended up there. The question has plagued me ever since
I read what I could find online about Fulton and Broken Bow, devouring both fiction and non-fiction in my quest for background information about both places where my grandmother lived. And then it occurred to me to I call the Fulton Historical Society to ask for help. A researcher named Bryce Gordon found my grandmother's story compelling, and for $10.00 he searched through micro-fiche files and came up with documents with my great-grandfather’s name and the names of his children on them, plus a copy of the deed to the 40 acres of land my grandmother's father owned, and a map of the property.
Armed now with research and even more curiosity, I feel ready to try to write this story, combining historical fact with fictional details. I don’t know if I’ll be able to write the book adequately, but it has been an adventure exploring that part of my family’s history, putting it into a greater context of Amerca’s story of westward expansion and the history of Jews in America. And now that I’m completely recovered from Covid, I have the energy to tackle the writing.
You’ll be among the first to know how it works out, although it might be a year from now before I know if I’m up to the task of completing the book. My grandfather would be so pleased to know I’m trying. “Doolibug,” he’d say to me with his characteristically devilish twinkle in his eye, “Take a chance. Columbus took a chance.”