There is a legend among the Pueblo peoples that the great leader, Moctezuma, was a witch born at the ancient Pose Uingge Pueblo in New Mexico. After he grew up, Montezuma traveled to the Pecos Pueblo where he changed his name to Montezuma and ruled. Under Montezuma, Pecos flourished and became overpopulated so he decided to form other New Mexico pueblos with the surplus. Montezuma then flew on a giant eagle south and founded more pueblos in New Mexico and then the great Mexico City.
While doing research for the Native American legend of Montezuma for my Land of Enchantment Trilogy, I stumbled across an article in the Harvard Gazette. In 1915, Alfred E. Kidder would become a famous archaeologist for discovering the ruins of the Pecos Pueblo. Kidder dug up more than 2,000 skeletons and transported these bones to Harvard University for medical research, including the famous Osteoporosis Study that proves exercise strengthens bones. The Pecos dig was the beginning of American Archaeology.
In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, allowing Native Americans to reclaim ancestral remains and artifacts taken from burial sites. The article in the Harvard Gazette was about the 2,067 Pecos skeletons being claimed by their descendants, and transported back to the ruins of the Pecos Pueblo for reburial.
I was moved by the journey these bones had undertaken. For 83 years these skeletons had to work instead of lying in peace in their graves. It seemed as if these skeletons were calling out to me to write their story and let the world know about their contributions to mankind so they would not be forgotten.
I could see an image of an old Native American and his granddaughter, the last of the Pecos Indians, traveling in a raggedy pickup, to claim their family’s ancestors and rebury them back at their haunted pueblo ruins.
I like to add magic to my books so the old Native American became a shaman who fashions for his granddaughter a dream catcher that now and then whirls her back to the past to experience her people’s triumphs and suffering. Return of the Bones is a different way to write historical fiction. I wanted to bring the past to life for Hollow-Woman and place her right there at the pueblo so she could witness the history of her ancestors first hand.
In creating the character of Grandfather, I was inspired by an old Native American who used to visit my father, a man I called Chief. He worked as a gardener during the summers at my aunt’s house at the end of my street. The old man lived in a shed, his only possessions his clothes on his back, hand-rolled cigarettes and bottles of whiskey. He and my dad would sit around our table and drink, philosophizing as only drunks can. The old Native American was shrunken and weather-beaten with skin like bark. He had greasy braids and a red bandanna tied around his forehead. He wore stained, grey khaki pants. He was mainly closed-mouth, sitting next to my father, smoking his hand-rolled cigarette, his eyes like two slits in a mud-cracked face. He would grunt back at my father. When the Native American was done drinking the bottle he and my dad shared, the old man would stand up and wobble to our front door. He would walk drunkenly down our street back to the small shed he called home for the summer.
Return of the Bones won Best Historical Fiction for the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. The novel is written with much love and heart, and I hope the reader feels the emotion pulsing between the pages.
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Genre – Historical fiction
Rating – PG