Author Interview: Michael Ross

Today on the blog we have a talented guest with an important message for us! Thank you Michael for talking with me about your new release, The Search. It’s book two of a series (but can be read alone), and I got to see an advanced reader copy. I think simply posting my review is not enough, so I asked Michael Ross if he would answer a few questions about his new release, instead!

Here is a short description of his book, The Search:

The guns of the Civil War have ceased firing, and the shots are but an echo… yet the war rages on, deep inside Will Crump’s soul. His “soldier’s heart” is searching for peace, and in that quest Will joins the westward movement, setting his path on a collision course with adventure, loss, and love.

The Westward Expansion floods the sacred, untouched lands with immigrants, bringing conflict to the Shoshone, Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. Amidst the chaos Will finds safety in the shadow of the US Army, but the army brings battle-hardened troops into Red Cloud’s War, pulling Will into a tornado of conflict. Broken treaties and promises leave both sides searching for answers. Will’s search leads him to a battle for survival, and there he finds a love that could change him forever.

Dove, a young Shoshone woman, is a survivor of the Bear Creek Massacre. After being kidnapped and escaping from the Cheyenne, she joins Will’s search, seeking where she belongs. Dove longs for more than the restricted role placed on women in her tribe. If she can learn to trust a white man, he just might help her find home… and hope.

Together, Will and Dove must search for understanding, and reach Across the Great Divide.

What inspired you to write the series and this book’s setting in particular?

For the series, the inspiration had several elements:

  • I was born in Lubbock, Texas, and wanted to explore the town’s history. I knew my main character’s granddaughter, Katy Bell Crump, when I was a child. Her stories about her grandfather got my curiosity going.
  • Always a fan of history, I saw many trends and elements today that echoed the situation in 1859 – a divided nation, issues over immigration and sanctuary cities, tariff wars, riots in major cities over racial issues, and political divisions within families deep enough to bring permanent splits. The solution at that time was a war that killed 20% of the adult male population. I want to remind people, and hopefully influence a better outcome. 

For The Search particularly, I’ve been fascinated by Red Cloud’s War, where the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho united and defeated, temporarily, the US Army. The Army had superior weaponry, superior numbers, and better resources – yet the Native Americans beat them. Of course, it didn’t last. The Shoshone took a different tack — Washakie thought they could not win a military battle in the long run. He listened to men like Jim Bridger about the numbers of white men in the East. He saw the telegraph come, and the beginnings of the railroad. He tried negotiation and was more successful than most.

I knew that the Native Americans were victims of planned genocide, through war, disease, and starvation, and I thought that story needed to be told, especially from their point of view. Darren Parry, chairman of the Northwestern Shoshone Tribe, helped me tell that story.

Historically, I had a gap of about five years where no one knew much about what happened to Will, in the period 1865-1870, except some references about him going west as many of the soldiers did after the war. The Search is my idea of what might have happened to him, and what did happen to the Shoshone.

What surprising similarities did you find between Will Crump and Dove?   

The real Will Crump

I think the Shoshone culture values truth, honor, and bravery. These qualities were Will’s also. The cultures are extremely different, but these were common elements, along with respect for parents and elders. They also shared the traumas of what we now call PTSD – Dove survived the Bear Creek Massacre, and carried the psychological scars. She had to learn to trust all over again. Will also had inner scars, after enduring the bloody battles of the war, the guilt for those he killed and those he could not save, and the horror of Camp Douglas prison camp. They both longed for family and yet were afraid to re-enter their family circle. They sought peace in each other and their love, but had many obstacles. 

Let’s hear something humorous that happened while researching or writing this novel.

I can’t say there were too many chuckles, but one event was misunderstanding some feedback on the second draft of the novel. It caused me to delete the last three chapters and write a new ending. After realizing the misunderstanding, the reviewer and I both agreed that the original ending was stronger, and it got reinstated. Aside from that, I’d have to say the funniest thing was the introduction of the dog character, Lightning. He wasn’t in the first draft. After Blue Pencil HNS 2019, I added two chapters on the front, and Lightning just walked up out of the storm, so to speak, and introduced himself, wagging his tail and demanding attention.  I love animals and enjoy including them where it works. I suppose the other humorous event was after writing the first chapters featuring Dove, she demanded a meeting to tell me she didn’t like how she was being written and had changes she wanted – I listened. 

Tell us about your research for this book. 

Map of Will Crump’s journey

Wow — how many months do you have?  I started right after finishing Clouds of War. I’d read the journals of Lewis and Clark in the past, and I began reading anything I could find on the Sioux, the Shoshone, the Cheyenne, and the army after the war. I visited the US Cavalry Museum in Fort Leavenworth, Ks. I read the autobiography of Red Cloud, My Army Life by Francis Carrington, original army documents on the Fetterman Fight, the Laramie Treaties, the debates in Congress over the treaties, and newspaper accounts from the period concerning Bear River, Tounge River, and the Fetterman fight. I read Beach’s journal and maps on Bear River.

The toughest part of the research was finding material, reliable material, on the Shoshone. The Smithsonian puts out a book on the Native American tribes, but it is over $200 per volume. I was able to get it through an inter-library loan and learn about the Sun Dance and other Shoshone rituals. I also happened on an out-of-print book of Native American legends and religious stories. Despite all that, the amount of written information was not much.

I discovered the Utah University Shoshone Language project and through them the fact that Idaho State University, near the Fort Hall reservation, was carrying on research into Shoshone language and culture. I remembered an old college friend working at the ISU library, and asked her for professors or others working on the Shoshone Project. That’s how I met Drusilla Gould. Drusilla was a consultant to Hollywood on the 2000 movie Wind River.

For a few months, Drusilla answered questions and pointed me at The White Indian Boy – The Story of Elijah Nicholas Wilson. Wilson wrote a non-fiction account of living with Washakie as his adopted son. After a short time, Drusilla retired and stopped answering questions. This caused a stall in the book as I searched for a new resource.

Understandably, many Native Americans are reluctant to talk to whites or trust them. I tried a descendant of Chief Pocatello — no luck. I tried the Eastern Shoshone Cultural center — no luck. I tried a few others and was striking out everywhere. Finally, I started searching social media for anything or anyone related to Shoshone. On Twitter, I found Darren Parry, “Chief” of the Northwestern Shoshone tribe.

Darren Parry serves as a Tribal Leader of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation

Darren was wonderful and willing to talk — even to meet. He’d written a book on the Bear Creek Massacre, and teaches Native American History at the University of Utah. He’s descended from Chief Sagwitch, whose band was almost wiped out at Bear River, and speaks fluent Shoshone. He was willing to meet with me.

I had planned a long driving trip to visit all the sites mentioned in the book, which is my usual practice. I’ve driven through a lot of Wyoming, but not some of the specific sites. Then COVID hit, and the driving trip had to be abandoned. I flew to Utah to meet with Darren. He gave me a personal tour of the Bear River Massacre site, explained the Shoshone side of the history, and suggested I visit Promontory Point where the railroads met – the Golden Spike. 

What are the three greatest things you learned from Darren Parry? What would he say to your readers?

  1. Great wrong was done to the Shoshone, and some of it continues today. Land stolen, treaties broken, murderous genocide planned and executed. But concentrating on the wrongs of the past is not the way forward.
  2. Education of both white and Native American people, concerning the past and the technological world of today, is the way to solve many problems. There’s nothing we can’t do if we work together.
  3. Shoshone women are the strong and vital force for good but are vulnerable. As the 2007 Wind River movie points out, hundreds of assaults, murders, and abductions of Native American women, Shoshone and Arapaho go unsolved and even unnoticed every year. My character Dove was strong, smart, resourceful, and a little wily, while honoring the traditions of her people. As Darren said in our Zoom session, there are hundreds of Doves out there. We need to honor them, listen to them, and help them. 

Is there anything you’d like your readers to reflect on, moving forward?

There’s a natural human tendency to be suspicious or look down on anyone who is different from us. Occasionally that suspicion is well-founded, and useful for self-preservation.  More often though, it creates divisions, hate, prejudice, and mistrust. You can see it with men and women, whites and African Americans, whites and any other race, religious “pseudo-superiority”. People are denigrated and excluded based on ethnicity (How many people know about the internment camps in WW2 for Italians and German Americans?), appearance, and just about anything “different”. In Clouds of War, I wrote about strangers walking out on a field of battle and killing each other because of the uniforms they wore – their woolen skins. Our recent race riots reflect the same spirit. 

I’d like readers to think about their “enemies”, the people they are different from, and look down on. How can they find common ground, common purpose, with those individuals, or groups? In 2018, an African American man refused to be intimidated by the Ku Klux Klan — instead he knocked on the door of a Klansman, and invited him to dinner. This step ultimately resulted in over 200 Klansman giving up their robes, and embracing friendship with the African American community. Who are the looked down on in your circle? What can you do to help them?

Today, Native Americans are often the forgotten people. Do you know a Native American? If so, ask about his family history, learn about his culture. If not, find out if there are Native Americans nearby — try to learn about them. It will enrich your life. 

The Great Divide I write about in the series is not a physical mountain range — it is the division we create between people. We are all the poorer for it. This Christmas season, regardless of your religious beliefs, try to reach out — Across the Great Divide. Be a positive force for change. 

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