I grew up in Elk County, Pennsylvania, and, as my readers know, that county is the setting for my Marienstadt books. In the past several years I've written 2 collections of short stories set there—The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall and The Bucktail Cap in the Trunk, and one full-length novel, The Christmas Daughter. I am now working on another novel. In writing these stories, I've drawn heavily on family legends, local folklore, rumors, traditions, food, colorful characters, etc. All of that was fairly easy to find and some very good people have shared some very good stories to encourage me.
But the one story I most wanted to write, the title story for The Bucktail Cap in the Trunk, got me to thinking about something—why did we never learn about this in school? I was good history student during my twelve years of Catholic education. When I started college at Penn State I exempted several freshman courses because my high school had done a good job of preparing me for college. But it wasn't until about ten years ago that I ever even heard of The Bucktails and I can't help wondering why that is.
For those who don't know, the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, also called the 13th Regiment, the Elk County Rifles, Kane's Rifles and more names than I can remember, began in Elk and McKean Counties early in the Civil War thanks to Thomas Leiper Kane. Kane was a distinguished businessman who, after the war would go on to conceive of and build the Kinzua Viaduct—the tallest bridge of its kind in the world at that time. When president Abraham Lincoln put out a call for volunteers, Kane determined to form a regiment of the finest sharpshooters and most rugged woodsmen he could find. He knew there was no better place to find these men than in Elk and McKean Counties and find them he did.
The story goes that as the regiment was forming in Smethport, PA, one new recruit cut the tail off a deer hanging outside a butcher shop, attached it to his kepi cap and declared himself a Bucktail. Others followed suit and soon the cap with bucktail sewn on it was the symbol of the regiment. They were one of the most distinguished regiment in the war, fought in every major battle, and were showered with honor. And yet, as a school kid in the middle of Elk County, I knew nothing about them.
Even doing research was difficult. Fortunately, I had as a resource a couple of men who knew as much as there was to know about them. I purchased a number of books about them that turned out either to be endless reprints of old historical records, or fairly silly stories with rootin'-tootin' dialogue and nearly no character development. So, I used my imagination and theguidance of my consultants and created the four Fritz brothers—Jacob, Bartholomew, Tobias, and Emanuel. Though the story has been out for nearly 2 months I have not received much feedback but I am patient. Late summer is not the best time for book reviews.
Having said all that, I wish there was a way to convince educators in my home area to develop and teach more about these amazing men. Many of them died when they were not yet twenty-one. They were valiant soldiers and they played a pivotal role in many battles. But most importantly—they were from our area. They were ours—their stories should be told. School children should learn about the very stock they come from.
So I decided to just put that out there. I learned so much writing my story and there is even more to be learned. I hope someone will take the challenge.
Thanks for reading.