At age eight, I decided to become a cowgirl like Dale Evans. I watched her on television every Saturday morning. Riding a pale horse named Buttermilk, my heroine joined her famous husband, Roy Rogers, in new adventures every week. In my official Dale Evans outfit (a fake cowhide skirt and vest with hat and gunbelt), I rode my imaginary horse to adventure in my Southern Indiana backyard.
Of course, I grew up to realize those shows were only stories and the West was no longer the wild, untamed place of Saturday morning serials. Still, I packed up and moved to Colorado the day after college graduation. I found a job in Denver and began to read Colorado history. That is where I first heard of Chipeta, a Ute Indian woman born in 1844 when the American Southwest was still Mexican Territory.
One morning in the summer of 1995, I sat up in bed and said, “I’m going to write a biography of Chipeta.” Like Dale Evans, Chipeta was known because of a famous husband, Chief Ouray of the Utes. I wanted to discover the woman herself, the woman who was so special that streets, parks, schools, and natural landmarks in Colorado and surrounding states bear her name. My search took eight years and many hundreds of miles. The result was Chipeta: Queen of the Utes (Western Reflections Publishing, 2003; P. David Smith co-author). In the fall of 2008, Filter Press released Chipeta: Ute Peacemaker, a biography for children in the Now You Know Bio series.
In this blog I plan to share research experiences and tidbits from my Chipeta files (which continue to grow). I hope to host other writers for discussions of research and writing. So, come on along for the ride – and leave your trail of comments.