A couple of days ago, in late September, I was beginning to search around for an idea for this year’s Halloween post. I’m not into things that go bump in the night, but if there were ever a holiday that calls for the telling of stories, it would be All Hallows Eve. Then I remembered a scene in an unwritten novel.
Of all the novels I’ve written in my head only, not on paper, Titus Young is the most complete. I know who my protagonist is, I know his antecedents and I know his offspring. Titus Young is the middle book in three well plotted but mostly unwritten generational historical novels.
I think I would write it next, if it weren’t for money. I could write five SF novels in the time it would take me to research and write this one lengthy historical — and I will probably do that — but Titus Young still hangs in there, taunting me.
Titus Young himself was a half breed — half Scottish and half German, that is. I assume that the term half breed is offensive now; I certainly haven’t herd it in years. During my childhood it was in common use especially in Oklahoma. Nevertheless, now that I’ve gotten your attention by the post title, I will switch to mixed race to avoid offending modern sensibilities.
Titus’s Scottish mother met his German-speaking Moravian father and they married in the unwritten novel Nativity. They moved from Pennsylvania to south-eastern Tennessee to be missionaries to the Cherokees. Moravians often did that. Titus was born there and the Youngs became respected for their compassionate work. When Titus’s parents died during an epidemic, John Ross, principal chief of the Cherokees, himself mixed race Scottish and Cherokee, arranged for Titus to be adopted by one of his relatives. Thus Scottish-German Titus became legally Cherokee, without a drop of Indian blood.
As a young man, Titus took a flatboat down the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers with a load of cargo for New Orleans. His boatmates were two white brothers. They sold their wares in New Orleans, but on their return up the Nachez Trace a disagreement led to a lifelong feud.
While in New Orleans, Titus met and courted a beautiful young Italian girl. Actually, she had an Italian father and a Natchez Indian mother, but she so hated her Indian heritage that she chose to pass as Italian. On a later trip to New Orleans, Titus met her again and they married. They returned to Tennessee where they opened a business.
Some years later, the events leading up to the Cherokee removal occurred. When the soldiers come to round up the Cherokees, Titus was away. His old enemies informed the soldiers that Titus and his wife were Cherokee.
Titus’s wife was half Indian, but no one knew that. She was believed to be Italian, and Titus was Scots-German, but Titus was an adopted Cherokee and she was married to him. That was enough for the soldiers. She was taken away with the rest of the tribe.
This irony of this left her with much soul-searching to do as she experienced the horrors of the Trail of Tears, and saw those horrors inflicted on her husband’s adopted people.
Titus returned, found himself a fugitive, found his enemies in possession of his business, and fled. He headed west, retaining his freedom but following the path on which the soldiers had taken the Cherokees. While he was on this journey, he came across a runaway slave named Cotton, whom he knew from when he was a boy, and that scene will form this year’s Halloween post.
In the 1830’s, America was full of half-breeds (to use the contemporary term). Even more appear in this story than I’ve presented so far. A lot of them were passing for white, and making life hard for the known half-breeds. Gay people didn’t invent the idea of being in the closet. We’ve always had closets.
Titus Young is one more way for me to explore that notion, but it is also just a great story. It begins on a Mississippi riverboat, where Titus meets his old enemies years after the events described above. They don’t recognize him, which allows him to engages them in a poker game and trick one of them into challenging him to a duel.
This part of the novel will be narrated by a young professional gambler who gets roped into being Titus’s second. During the night before the duel, Titus tells the young man his life story, which we will see in a series of flashbacks, and in the morning . . .
But I guess that’s enough for now. The scene which will become the Halloween post will begin next Monday.