Lynn Brown is truly someone you’d want on your Trivial Pursuit team. She’s writing a whole series of historical novels dedicated to bringing outcast and forgotten figures from Indiana’s past to new life during the mostly overlooked period between the War of 1812 and the American Civil War.
Her passion for Kosciusko County history from about 1824-1840 started with writing her own homeschool curriculum for her children. Prior to rearing her family, Brown had been a practicing RN and a teacher of nursing curriculum.
“When doing my research, I became fascinated with the life of a French fur trader named Dominique Rousseau,” Brown explained. “He lived in Indiana on the fringes of society. He went from having wealth to becoming an outcast, yet he learned to survive among the Indians, pioneers, traders, trappers, and priests.”
From what started as simple curiosity, Brown has since taken her research on Rousseau and made him the protagonist of her first book, Furs and Fevers, in what will become three novels set in her home county. “Rousseau’s life was the impetus for my first novel, but as I started to examine culture, politics, and commerce from his outsider’s viewpoint, it motivated me to research the lives of other significant Hoosiers and to help present their insights, views, and beliefs. After all, they laid the foundation for the destiny of our state.”
Though it is historical fiction and not a documentary, Brown enjoys the challenge of keeping her novels as accurate as possible. “When there’s a fact, I stick with the truth.” Of course it was inevitable she’d have to make educated guesses on some details, but they were used merely as glue to unite the gaps.”
With a documented timeline given to her, the novel bloomed naturally out of the folds of history. When asked where she started the story Brown said, “Because I had an outline from history, I went from the beginning to the end.”
She plans for the series to have continuity though passing the story from one fringe character to another at the start of each succeeding book. Each novel will show history as it progresses through a perspective as unique as each main character. “Every protagonist is going to be someone from outside normal society,” said Brown. This, she feels, gives a different spin on history.
Although writing in this genre does involve intensive research, because it is something she loves, Brown says it doesn’t seem like work. “I’ve written a lot of genres, but historical fiction, I find, is the most fun.” Brown has started writing her second book, and she’s enjoying revealing little known facts about Indiana to her readers.
“Johnny Appleseed actually fought in the Whisky Rebellion,” is one of Brown’s revelation. That’s right, the same man, children sing about in elementary school fought in protest because the government imposed taxes on whiskey. The odd apple seed–spreading obsession makes sense once you know that apples grown from seed aren’t usually edible. They’re used for making hard cider.
The United States Treasury ran out of money too. While most of the state banks couldn’t do anything to alleviate this embarrassing economic crisis because they were also underwater, the Indiana state bank was doing just fine because of the Native Americans who still lived within the state. All annuity payments and land treaty payments were required to be paid in gold by the government to the Indians. That gold circulated in the state’s economy, thus sparing it the financial instability of the rest of the country. So, with a stable economy, the state of Indiana bailed out the United States Treasury. “Andy Jackson was so appreciative, when the U.S. Treasury started having money to deposit in the state banks, Indiana was at the top of the line for getting national deposits,” Brown says.
Miami and Potawatomi, the Indian tribes living in Indiana, avoided traveling over lakes for fear of the evil spirit that lived in them. This wasn’t a Disney movie where the Indians canoed over peaceful lakes to cross from one side to another. Reality was very different and much darker. According to the beliefs of the Miami and Potawatomi Indians, there were a total of three spirits called manitou, and they each dominated three different terrains: land, air, and water.
“From their descriptions,” Brown says, “they sound like three dinosaurs.” The Indians living in what is now Fort Wayne had no fear of the brontosaurus-like land manitou because the topography they lived on back then was all wetlands—a landscape impossible for that kind of creature to traverse. Why fear an animal that will simply sink if it enters the area where you live?
The second manitou was the air Manitou, which handed-down legends described as looking like a pterodactyl. The Indians were also unconcerned by this manitou because Kosciusko County also had vast forests of hardwood trees. The thickly, layered canopies of the trees protected them from any manitou above them. “The top layer in my county before the settlers came was two hundred feet tall,” Brown explains.
However, the last manitou, the Manitou that lurked in the water, was the Indians’ biggest fear. Brown explains, “It was very much like the Loch Ness monster, only with a nasty disposition.” There is even a lake in Rochester, Indiana called Lake Manitou after the water manitou the Indians feared lived inside it. “This manitou was so nasty, the Indians would not even go to the side of the lake. They wouldn’t get water from the lake. They wouldn’t wash their clothes there. Nothing.” No manitou has even been pulled from the lake, though there were mysterious sightings that were mentioned in the newspapers of the 1800s.
In what may seem to the average person as trivial facts and lore, Brown sees as plotlines and story arcs. The lives within the pages of history books are all too often reduced to mere facts. To novelist and historian Lynn Brown there are sagas, adventures, and conquests to be discovered and shared.
Alecia Bonson is a professional writing major at Taylor University and a freelance writer for WBCL radio and Church Libraries.
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