Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Holidays!

I did NOT realize it had been almost two months since my last post, so I apologize if you're counting on me for regular updates!

The last post was from Texas, so I'll give just a quick recap since then: November was fairly busy with seven presentations ranging from the Atkinson (Nebr.) Public Library, the local chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America at the Joslyn Art Museum, the Saunders County (Nebr.) Historical Museum and the Bennett Martin Public Library in Lincoln. The last was particularly good for me as I was presenting for the Ames Reading Series there, with the talk recorded for local cable.

I also tried a new venue for book sales that has worked out fairly well - gun shows! I had seen billboards for the Fremont Gun Show and, knowing it was well established and probably had a lot of historical gun collectors of the fort period, I gave the organizers a call and rented a table. It worked out better than I hoped! Sales were very good and met some people who had great information for me on other projects. I tried the O'Neill show a couple weeks later - sales were also decent there, but my table was set up in a very awkward location for people to get to, and I was also confronted by my first heckler!

This guy came up to my table and immediately challenged me on what I knew about the "tunnels of Fort Robinson." He didn't want to say any more than that, but finally let on that he was talking about tunnels that the soldiers had at the fort to get to the brothels in town. "I was going to buy the book until I found out you didn't have anything about the tunnels!" he said. I let him know it was a travel guide rather than a recount of purient fort activities, but he decided to spend another 10 minutes with me to cover things I didn't know. I finally shut him up by letting him know he was mispronouncing Fort "Harstuff" (it's Hartsuff), but what an ordeal! I did have to check Tom Buecker's books on Fort Rob when I got home - nothing about tunnels in either, so the guy may well have been COMPLETELY full of it.

Only one talk in December and that was last night for the Spring Lake Neighborhood Association in South Omaha. Nice sized group - they had me stay for their holiday potluck and Councilman Gary Gernandt was also in attendance!

To close this report out, I want to wish ALL of you a very Merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year. Oh, and GO HUSKERS!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Deep in the Heart of Texas

I'm now in the second day of a trip to Austin, Texas, for the annual Order of the Indian Wars Assembly. The OIW is a great organization for the kind of writing that I do, and this year's conference was particularly appealing for a number of reasons:
1) I finally get to meet probably the top Old West historian in the country, Robert Utley. Bob did a "jacket blurb" for my book, but I'd never met him before.
2) One of the tours included a visit to the Custer headquarters in Austin. This is the only Custer military post on the Great Plains that I hadn't visited yet; as my next book will cover Custer on the plains, it's a "must see"!
3) I finally get to visit the Alamo - I've been a nut about that site for more than 20 years, but have never been.
4) It's also a chance to visit a number of Texas forts that I hadn't visited yet. I might get in as many as five on this trip, so knock wood.

The first day of the assembly included some great talks on Texas, Fort Parker, the lead-up to the Alamo, and the Kiowa chief Satanta. In between talks, I had the chance to do book sales and also see some familiar faces from my last trip with the OIW. And finally, got to meet Bob Utley! Great guy, happy to see me and he signed one of his books (there's been more than 50 I think) for me. I'll post a photo as soon as the blog lets me - some kind of glitch this morning.

Visited the state capitol after the conference - very cool. Today it's off to Waco and a visit to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Fort Parker.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Moving Into the Fall

We were in the middle of summer the last time I wrote; now we've seen almost a third of the autumn. I hate to spend the first part of each blog in apologizing for not writing!

I made quite a few appearances around the area to close out the summer, including some senior homes, community events, and farmers markets. I also got in visits to two historic Nebraska sites - the John G. Neihardt State Historic Site in Bancroft and Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park near Burwell.

The Neihardt visit actually got booked almost a year ago when I met Nancy Gillis (the site administrator) at the Nebraska Book Festival in Lincoln; Sue and I went up to see a speaker at the site a week or so later, fell in love with the place and booked an appearance. My talk was Sept. 13 and we had a great turnout - about 35, including one man who heard about it on NPR and decided to make the ride over the Missouri from Iowa on his motorcycle! I enjoyed it very much, moreso since it was my first talk "in the round" with their circular meeting space.

Sue and I drove out to Fort Hartsuff on Sept. 26, a day before my scheduled talk in order to see a very unique and seldom-seen site from the Plains Indian Wars. When they asked me at the fort to come out for a talk, I asked if they could also get me to the "Battle of the Blowout" site in the nearby Sand Hills. In this 1876 skirmish - just two months before Little Bighorn - a group of six Sioux warriors had been pursued into a blowout atop the tallest of the surrounding hills. Troops from Fort Hartsuff surrounded them after their sargeant was shot and killed when looking over the rim to see if they were IN the blowout. The Indians later escaped, but not before three troopers rescued the sargeant's body and each earned a medal of honor for it.

A nearby rancher who does a lot of work at the fort took us out to the site; it wasn't on his land but a neighbor's so there were no problems. We made a jarring ride in the bed of four-wheel-drive pickup to the site and it was beautiful. Spent about an hour looking around before returning to town and watching the Nebraska game at the residence of the fort's assistant supervisor and his wife, Jim and Sally
Domeier. I also got some photos of the fort at dusk - absolutely the best time to view it.

We drove around the area for a bit on Sunday before my talk at the fort (and found my name up in lights at Burwell!) Since we had some time, I put together a quick slide show about the Blowout for after my talk for those interested.

The talk was in the barracks at the fort - really a neat site and perfect location for such a presentation. We ended up with around 50 in attendance for the "Forts of Nebraska" presentation, and before breaking for 20 minutes, I invited everyone to stick around for a presentation on the battle.
While I was signing books between shows, a man came up to me and said he HAD been to the site, because the site was on HIS land! I found out our guide HADN'T cleared it with him and we'd actually been trespassing.

He was a good sport about it, though - he came up during the talk and spoke a bit about the site and I gave him a copy of the book as a compensation.
This past Saturday was my last big event of recent weeks, my second "Forts of Omaha" bus tour through Metropolitan Community College. I had 13 attendees on this fall tour; this time we didn't have a visit to Fort Crook (Offutt AFB) due to maneuvers at the base, but still plenty to see.
The first stop was the Omaha Quartermaster Depot, which is closing next month after 139 years of active duty. We had a great tour from the former facility manager of the post, John Bryan, who was informative, witty and kept the pace moving. I reminded the group that they were probably the last members of the general public to tour this great site.
Next was a tour and lunch at the General Crook House at Fort Omaha. We got there a little early, but that gave us enough time to tour the Victorian Garden while the house was opened. The house tour was great, as was lunch; quite a few tour members were interested in taking on one of the house's tea parties.
The afternoon was spent at Fort Atkinson for the final weekend of the season for the living history demonstrations. This was the highlight of the day as people visited with the post's colonel and troops, baker, carpenter, weavers, blacksmith and tinsmith. After the lowering of the colors and final canon salute, we made a stop at the Super Bee Orchard at Council Bluffs to purchase some of the harvest of the season. Great day!
My next big event is a trip to Texas this month for the Order of the Indian Wars annual assembly. I'll get to visit the Alamo for the first time, meet one of the GREAT historians of the Old West, Robert Utley, and visit the Custer headquarters in Austin, the ONLY Custer site on the plains I've yet to see.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A BIG day in my writing career

I got some great news this week: Stackpole Books let me know that "Forts of the Northern Plains" was on their reprint list for August!

For a writer, that's almost as good as news that you're getting published - you might THINK there's a market for your work, and your publisher might think it will sell, but it's only when they run out at the warehouse that you KNOW there's a market. And that made me happy!

The nice thing about it is that the advance Stackpole sent me to sign the contract and deliver the manuscript is essentially paid off and I can now start collecting royalties. The not-so-nice thing is those checks are cut only twice a year and it's a VERY small percentage of each book's sale that I actually see. So I'll still be out there speaking and selling books myself!

Speaking of which, I've been keeping busy at that. I've been selling at the new Florence Mill Farmers Market - it's run by the owner of the mill and a friend of mine, Linda Meigs, and has turned out to be a pretty good outlet for sales! This weekend, however, I'll set up my tent at Columbus Days in Columbus, NE. I'm looking forward to this as it's my first appearance in the city (I've already had three in North Platte!) and it's always good to try out a new market.

Next week is a presentation on the "Forts of Nebraska" at the Gretna Public Library, and the next day is a trip to Oklahoma for my nephew's wedding. It's the same day as my birthday, so in return I've convinced the missus to allow me to visit the new visitor center at the Washita National Battlefield (lucky me!)

September includes a couple Kiwanis clubs, three senior communities, and two state sites for my Forts of Nebraska talks: the Neihardt Center in Bancroft and Fort Hartsuff. Looking forward to both of those, but the Hartsuff trip is especially anticipated because I've got a promise to get me to the site of one of the fort's few (maybe only) fights, the "Battle of the Blowout." Three Medals of Honor were given after this battle and few people know about it or have visited the site. I'll get plenty of pics!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Yes, I'm Still Alive!

I'm guessing there aren't THAT many people who track me solely from this blog, because I surely would have heard from them in three months asking when they'd get a new posting! It's really not that hard to blog, although I'm trying to make it look that way...

What's new since April? Well, since my last posting, I've had 25 different appearances including two national monuments, two state parks, two libraries, nine retirement homes, three museums, three community festivals, two associations and my first bus tour of the Omaha-area forts! (I'm missing one in there, but that's plenty.) VERY busy with the speaking engagements, especially with the first of those with the Nebraska Humanities Council starting up.

One of the state park presentations came at the end of April with the Nebraska State Historical Society at the Fort Robinson History Conference. This is held every two years with a different theme, and this year's just happened to be "U.S. Army Posts of the Central and Northern Plains." My book came out AFTER the agenda for the weekend was sent, but I just HAD to get in. They did find a spot for me on opening night - I gave my "Lost Forts of the Northern Plains" and it went over fairly well. Of course, the BIG attraction for me for the weekend was meeting many authors whom I've read for years and getting them to sign my copies of their books. Herb Hart, somewhat my "godfather" for my book after his series of fort books, was the guest of honor for the banquet and even made special mention of me in his remarks!

At the end of May I did a very unusual role, that of the founder of the town of Barneston, Nebraska! No relation that I've been able to find, but I still dressed up 1880s style and had great fun walking in the parade and giving a short talk on the book. You'll note in the photo that I'm the ONLY one walking - "Mrs. Barnes" and the Indian performers in the wagon didn't want to walk, but I couldn't see renting that costume and not allow anyone to see it! So I allowed my ham side to take over for a few blocks on the streets of Barneston.

The June bus tour for Metropolitan Community College went fantastic. I had just over a dozen people come with me to visit Fort Atkinson, Fort Omaha, the Omaha Quartermaster Depot, and Fort Crook (Offutt AFB) for a full Saturday. Beautiful day for the trip, especially with the living history people at Atkinson and a great guide at Offutt. The next one is already planned - Oct. 3. Hope to see you on it!

I also got involved in the fight to save Fort Hartsuff (Neb.), or to keep its operating hours and maintenance from being severely curtailed. I had an editorial published in the Lincoln Journal-Star which helped get some other things fired up, I got the Nebraska Concrete & Aggregates Association to help out (Fort Hartsuff is nine historic concrete buildings) and even testified before the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission (they didn't like me too much). The planned cutbacks were cut in half but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

Many speaking gigs around Omaha, but just got back from a great trip west which had me at Scotts Bluff National Monument (for my first nighttime presentation), the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney, and the North Platte Public Library.

I know I'm leaving a lot out here, but considering that I don't know if anyone reads these, I don't feel too bad about it! (Let me know if there IS anyone out there!)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

An Busy (and Ornery) Opening to April

The first week of the month included some April fooling, an appointment and an appearance.

I don't usually participate in April Fool pranks but I did this year, on my Facebook page. I made an announcement that I had accepted a position as executive director of the Lirpa County History Museum in Loof, KY. I figured everyone would see right through the Lirpa (April) and Loof (Fool), especially after I commented that both the county and town were a little "backward." Still, some of my friends bit and bit hard, to the point that they were planning goodbye parties (maybe they WANTED to see me go?) I 'fessed up before it got too far, but it's a good thing it happens only once a year.

Sunday I showed up at Fort Omaha to take on a little additional work, but work I think will be enjoyable and enriching - I am one of the new members of the Douglas County Historical Society board of directors! I had asked friends on the board about the possibility of filling a slot if one came open, and wouldn't you know it, my timing was perfect - a couple of the members had just completed their terms, so I found out about my appointment about four days before the annual meeting! I'm truly looking forward to this - I've already been named to the marketing committee so I'll have a chance to help promote the Gen. Crook House, the DCHS resources and special events. Join today to make sure YOU don't miss out!

And today (Wed., April 8) I gave my first presentation on the forts along the Union Pacific Railroad, with the Council Bluffs Public Library as the premiere site. This was sponsored by the Gen. Dodge House, which held it at the library since the ballroom of the house involves some climbing to get there. The library is a great facility, however, and there was a fairly good-sized audience that showed up: more than 25, including my sister-in-law Andrea; Jeff, an old buddy of mine from Glenwood, Iowa; and K.J. (aka Krystal), a former favorite co-worker of mine who's now at the Council Bluffs Nonpareil. Good, good times.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A FULL Month of March

It's the final day of the month, and WHAT a month! It started out with a couple days at the Missouri Valley History Conference in Omaha; not so great for sales, but good for contacts and talks about topics that interest me. That was followed in the month by a presentation to the Military Officers Association of America, a great group which also gave me one of their challenge coins as a souvenir (VERY cool - I collect these things!)

The next weekend had me at the Council Bluffs Public Library. I'm thinking March Madness or the nice weather kept people away, because there were only THREE people in attendance and all of them had the last name "Barnes" - my folks and my second cousin Alvin. This was probably the most informal talk I've ever given, but it worked out alright - I hadn't seen Alvin in years and it was a good opportunity to catch up.

I closed out March with a big trip to the west - the first day included a booksigning at the Hastings store in Kearney and a talk at the Kearney Public Library to a great crowd. The second day I made an impromptu call at the Dawson County Museum and got them set up with some books and posters; that night was the State DAR Convention in North Platte. By the way, I love the DAR - my mom and daughter are both members and the group has done more than any other in installing markers at the historic sites. I presented "Forts of Nebraska" to the organization and was seated with a fairly prestigious group, including Adrian Smith, congressman for the Third District, and the state senators for the region. One of them - LeRoy Louden - I expect to see at the Fort Rob History Conference next month! Anyway, GREAT sales to the ladies - hope to come back again someday.

I had a fun signing at A to Z Books in North Platte the next day, talking for about an hour to the three people who were there (not counting Dickens the cat). I stopped at Fort Kearny on the way back and got them set up with some books, and even made several stops along the way to see the Sandhill cranes.

The day after I got back I presented at the Sarpy County Museum on the forts of the region. We had a full house there - two head counts set it at 32, so I was very happy with that.

Next month, April, I've got presentations in Council Bluffs, Beatrice and Fort Robinson. Hard to believe there's nothing scheduled for Omaha - I'll have to work on that!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Tale of Two Talks

I presented to two audiences in the past week: one on a very historic occasion and the second to an unusual audience.

Last Thursday was the "world premiere" of my new Forts of Nebraska presentation at the W. Dale Clark Library in downtown Omaha. The historic occasion was the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth - he's my favorite president and I really wanted to do something in my hometown to mark the date.

I wasn't sure what attendance would be like for a downtown museum in the middle of the week over the noon hour in a part of the library that's regularly closed to the public. It turned out to be about a dozen attendees, but I knew quite a few of the attendees and it was great to see them again. Plus sales were pretty good and I was able to donate to the Friends of the Omaha Public Library!

Last night was my second speaking event of the week. I got an email on Sunday from Mark Bulger asking if I could present to his group since their scheduled speaker couldn't make it. This was for the Omaha Association of the Blind! Since I do a Power Point presentation, I asked Mark if he wanted me to bring the whole set-up; absolutely, he said, since they had sighted members and I may need the images to prompt me in my speaking (I do).

A great tip he gave me was to describe the images on the screen as if you were doing so for someone over the phone. And that's what I did, or tried to remember to do, anyway. The only thing really different was the layout of the room - it was kind of long and narrow with my screen set up toward the middle of a long wall. Not really providing the best view of the screen, but as most of the room wasn't sighted, it really wasn't necessary. The OAB provided refreshments at the end of their meeting, and I had the chance to talk further about the forts with a few of their members, one of whom is providing me with more information about Fort Omaha that I didn't have. A very enjoyable evening!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Year, New Presentation

In recent weeks I've been working on a new presentation to give when I'm out in the field. The "Forts of Nebraska" presentation will cover the 12 military posts I cover in my bookin a chronological order, giving a brief history of each with images of the time. It finishes up with the forts today, using photographs I took.

Should be fun! I've found some very nice images and historical maps of each of the periods covered. The "chapters" include The Trade Fort (Forts Atkinson), The Trails Forts (Old Fort Kearny, and Forts Kearny, McPherson and Mitchell), The Rail Forts (Forts Omaha, Sidney, and the Omaha Quartermaster Depot), The Reservation Forts (Forts Hartsuff, Niobrara and Robinson) and The Political Fort (Fort Crook).

As you can tell, the program covers the differing reasons that forts were built. There's kind of a general perception that they were built purely for protection from Indians which is far from the truth. I could go into that here, but then you might not come to the presentation! So keep watching the website for appearance dates - I think the first presentation will be at the W. Dale Clark Library (the downtown branch) in Omaha. I've put in for a "brown bagger" for lunchtime on Thursday, Feb. 12, the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth - kind of cool, being the history nut that I am.