|Jenny Lake, Wyoming|
A ranger explained Jenny had been a Shoshone Indian married to an English fur trapper named Beaver Dick Leigh during the 1870s. Not only is the neighboring Leigh Lake named after him, he kept a journal of their life together with their children. My imagination went wild. What was it like hiking with five kids in the wilderness while being pregnant? Living in a tipi during blizzards? While our boys threw stones in the lake and splashed each other, I wondered if Jenny was another mother lost to history or was there a story to be told?
I'd been a newspaper reporter and book reviewer, but had never written a novel. Didn't know how or where to start! In the gift shop I bought maps, nature guides, and historical accounts about the tribes, then hauled everything to the car with the usual plunder of candy and T-shirts. On the long drive back to Pocatello, ideas percolated. By the time the boys were down for "naps" [ha! that's a joke] I was on the phone with the archivist at the University of Wyoming. I asked how I might read Beaver Dick's diaries and said I was writing a book called Jenny of the Tetons, a title that just that instant popped into my head.
A few days later, the mailman delivered a hefty package. Inside were xeroxes of Dick's letters and journals with a note from the archivist: "$10.40 please." Wow! I spread out the maps on the kitchen table and began tracing every canyon, creek and river mentioned in the diaries. Soon I had a picture of Jenny's life with her mountain man and began to write, opening each chapter with his words. His spelling was atrocious which I kept intact to show kids that you don't have to be perfect to tell a story.
Jenny of the Tetons (Great Episodes)took nine months to write and research. I visited the Shoshone-Bannock reservation where elder Emma Dann demonstrated how to raise a tipi and what Jenny would have used as diapers: the soft pulpy bark from sagebrush! I interviewed Maude Miner, one of the first white babies born in Idaho Territory, and who had met Beaver Dick as a child. When I asked what he was like, she said that during his visits her mother would have to open all the windows: "Sometimes he was clean, sometimes he wa'rnt," she explained.
After a discouraging string of rejections, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich published Jenny in 1989. Then to my utter amazement The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators [SCBWI] gave it the Golden Kite Award for fiction. It was a grand beginning!