Historical Errors in Bulletproof Witch

Episode One has been live for a week now, and hopefully has actually been read by a few people at this point. If you drifted over or found this blog due to the giveaway going on at r/Fantasy, hello fellow Redditors!

Now, having a great passion for 1800’s America, I’m sure there are plenty of factual errors I made in the book concerning a number of topics. If you noticed any, feel free to let me know in the comments. Today, however, I wanted to talk about three issues that I knew about and acknowledged going into writing.

You may be wondering why any of this matters, given that this is a fantasy work taking place in a fantasy world. While it is true that Korvana is not the USA, context still matters, and a story that relies entirely on made up facts is not a story, IMO.

Issue One: Horses

Temperance rides a single horse, Peter rides a single horse, and Obidiah spends most of his time on the back of a mule. This doesn’t really change despite the distance traveled, or the hard riding during their adventures. If you’ve ever seen an old western movie, this is pretty atypical, but a little bit of research into the life of a cowboy will reveal an issue here.

Fact is, horses get tired. A  rider would have had several horses when traveling (or swapped out for fresh ones along the way). A cowboy might have had as many as seven with him while herding cattle on the trail. This would usually have been comprised of two morning horses, two day horses, a night horse, and two cattle horses if he was lucky.

A night horse is specially trained to find its way back to camp in the dark, allowing the cowboy to snooze in the saddle.

Cattle horses are for exactly what you think they are: roping and directing cattle.

So why do the characters have only a single mount in this story? Temperance is obviously an exception, since even if Astor got tired like a regular horse, he probably wouldn’t have brooked the extra company. As for the others, it was mostly a matter of logistics. Early drafts of the chase scenes proved too confusing with the addition of more horses, and it didn’t really add anything to the narrative to include them.

Issue Two: Jerky vs. Pemmican

On several occasions during their journey, Peter and Temperance set down to eat a meal consisting of little else than hardtack and jerky. While not exactly historically inaccurate, it would have been more likely during the 1800’s for them to be eating pemmican.

To give credit where it is due, pemmican is an invention of the native Americans, used as a staple food for centuries before the arrival of white men. It involves drying meat into jerky, then mixing it with the fat of the animal. When properly stored, this has the benefit of preserving the meat almost indefinitely, and indeed pemmican has been discovered to still be edible decades after it was assembled. It also adds flavor and makes it a bit more of a rounded meal to consume.

There are cases of people in the 1800’s surviving for extended periods nothing other than pemmican when little other food was available. On one occasion, miners working hard days lived on upwards of six pounds of pemmican a day to keep their energy up!

So why didn’t I use pemmican in the story? Mostly because the food isn’t well known (they aren’t exactly selling much pemmican at my local grocery mart), and I worried that with all the other made-up words in the story, it might have just been swept under the rug. Who knows though, maybe it will put in an appearance in a later book!

Issue Three: The Harmonist Wagons

Alright, this one isn’t exactly an issue, per se, but it’s something that seemed noteworthy. During the so called period of “Western Expansion”, the preferred method of travel across the American Midwest was a type of wagon referred to as a prairie schooner. If you’ve ever seen a western or watched Little House on the Prairie, you’ve probably seen one: a buckboard style wagon with a white canvas cover. These varied in size and exact materials, but the designs were typically the same.

While I refer to the wagons the Harmonists use in the story as prairie schooners, historically the use of such vehicles was meant more for temporary travel, not the permanent living solutions as they would be for the Ta-tet. When settlers crossed the great plains they were typically not sleeping or doing much living inside the wagon itself, as every inch of space would have been needed for the supplies they brought along. Typically this wasn’t even much beyond the essentials, as a settler would need as much as 2,000 lbs of food for the journey.

While the Harmonists could trade with various towns for the goods they need as they journey, their isolated nature and pariah status would likely discourage this with any but the most free-thinking communities. Of course, their are other more unique, fantasy-esque aspects at play here too, which I hope to expand on in later books.

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Well, that’s everything. If you’ve read Bulletproof Witch, I hope you still enjoyed it despite these horrendous historical inaccuracies. At the moment I’m hard at work finalizing Episode Two, so keep an eye out for an announcement about that in the near future!

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