Signed contract for The House has been sent along to the bank. And so the waiting and escalated hope begins.
Had a reader of Lest Camelot Fall
become the first one yesterday to point out historical goofs. Actually most weren't goofs, just places where I probably should've been clearer. I'm still kicking myself over one, though: where in my head I was thinking "herbal brew" I wrote "tea" and then never caught it in three rounds of edits, despite tea proper only coming to Britain a thousand years after Camelot
takes place. Le sigh.
Which brings me to the point of this post. I don't know if I tend to be overly slavish to historical accuracy, beverage slips aside, and I do tend to exercise some literary license, but there are plenty of lines I won't cross, and places where I'll stand my ground. I've been digging my heels in a lot lately while writing about Geronimo, just because there's so much misinformation about him out there--or just "things people know that just ain't so", as the saying goes.
Let's start with the movie Geronimo: An American Legend
, because it incorporated a giant host of things that just weren't so.
Quick run-down if you haven't seen it: Geronimo (played by Wes Studi) is being brought in to the San Carlos reservation by Lt. Charles Gatewood (Jason Patric) and narrator Lt. Britton Davis (Matt Damon), but is restless and unhappy there. When U.S. soldiers kill a holy man called the Dreamer, Geronimo breaks out. Gatewood finds him with the help of the Apache scout Chato (Steve Reevis) and Geronimo offers to surrender, but breaks his word again. Brigadier General George Crook (Gene Hackman), head of the Department of Arizona, resigns, and is replaced by the uptight martinet Brigadier General Nelson Miles (Kevin Tighe). Gatewood, Davis, Chato, and Chief of Scouts Al Sieber (Robert Duvall) go hunting for him in Mexico, Sieber is killed in a bar fight, Gatewood finds Geronimo and convinces him to come back with terms of surrender being that Geronimo will spend two years imprisoned in Florida. The Chiricahua Apache scouts are arrested and sent with them. Davis quits the army in protest.
So, what did the movie get right? Well, the names. There was a holy man called the Dreamer who was killed by U.S. troops. General Crook did resign after Geronimo's last breakout, and was replaced by Miles. The Apache scouts were indeed arrested. And, well, that's about it.
First of all, the movie compacts events--the Dreamer's death was several years before Geronimo's final breakout (and Geronimo wasn't there when the holy man was killed). The final straw was, of all things, that the Apache were forbidden to make and drink tizwin, an alcoholic beverage fermented from corn. Gatewood and Davis only rode together in the first days immediately after the last breakout; after that, troops of cavalry and a hundred Apache scouts were sent to hunt Geronimo down.
After a few grueling months in the Chihuahuan Desert south of New Mexico with no success, Britton Davis actually quit the army at this point, not after the war ended. Al Sieber, mostly crippled from years of hard desert service, essentially quit here too--refusing to go south of the border again. Despite his 1886 "death" in the movie, he lived on until 1907--ironically dying by way of a falling boulder while overseeing an Apache road work crew. (Local legend says an Apache rolled the boulder on top of him.)
General Crook is about the only one who is portrayed with more accuracy than not. Gatewood comes close, though the real Gatewood, unlike handsome Jason Patric, was gaunt almost to the point of being skeletal, and that only got worse as he chased Geronimo and his health failed. Wes Studi was about a generation younger than the real Geronimo, but did an excellent job portraying the warrior's perpetually scowling, grim face. Britton Davis was ambivalent about the Apache themselves, but not Geronimo--he hated Geronimo, calling him vicious, treacherous, and intractable. Nelson Miles is portrayed as a hard-arsed martinet, and he gets a bad rap in history books because the history writers tend to prefer his rival, General Crook (as did Britton Davis). But the truth is that Miles was almost as sympathetic toward the Apache as Crook, and had spent years advocating fair treatment for Native Americans and--in his own words--letting "Indians be Indians". He said that our failure to do this was a big part of the reason we had so many problems with them, along with enforcing laws on them that they had no say in, and occasionally being "unmercifully cruel" in our punishments.
Screwing around with history as much as the movie does is way above and beyond literary license, as far as I'm concerned. You don't need to alter the facts this much to make a good story; there are plenty of good stories inherent in things as they really were. I consider rewriting that much not only akin to historical blasphemy, but also outright laziness.
There are other things I'm not writing about, simply because I think they've been overdone. I don't have a long sequence of Geronimo's attacks on whites, for instance. Not that I don't have any at all, but you know it's happening, so there's no need to beat it into the ground for effect. I've concentrated more on other stories that tend to get left out of books and movies, like the story of Geronimo's 2-year-old son, Little Robe. That wasn't his real name, but a nickname given by soldiers who captured him and his family. (They had been with Geronimo--the Apache took their families to war with them.) Little Robe captivated the soldiers at Fort Bowie, and they were devastated when he met a tragic end. Those are the things I focus on more because details like that have always fascinated me.
Of course, nobody may read the book. It may bomb even worse than Geronimo
did. But at least I'll have written the book the way I wanted to and thought it should be.( PROGRESS REPORT )