History of: The Klondike Journey of Mattie Lampman
I began loving the journey of Mattie Lampman when her diary was willed to me in the 1980’s by my great-aunt, Vivian Davis. Little Vivian (about 4 foot 9) was Mattie Perkins Lampman’s niece, as was my grandmother, Luva. The women often visited in St. Peter, Minnesota, where Mattie lived in her latter years. Mattie (1867-1955) had no children so before her death, she gave Vivian her diary and newspaper accounts of her life.
Vivian was the youngest of the five children of Arthur (Mattie’s brother) and Edith Perkins. She had no living children, so when Vivian became ill, she wanted to give Mattie’s coveted diary to a younger member of the extended Perkins family. I often visited Vivian with my grandmother and I expressed an interest in the family history. With great joy I learned after Vivian’s death that I was chosen to receive Mattie’s diary.
In the 1990’s, I decided to go back to college to complete my bachelor’s degree since I was just a few credits shy of a psychology degree. However, this time around, I wanted to focus on writing. I’ve always loved history, literature, reading, reading, reading, and I like to research and write papers. Yes, I’m an English nerd, definitely NOT a computer nerd. One of the classes I took was Creative Non-fiction Writing. That class opened the door to write about Mattie Lampman. Her diary was perfect first-hand research material for the class. I started doing other historical research on the Klondike gold rush for my final paper, which I titled “Golden Bubbles.” Mattie’s goldrush adventure brought my own rush of accomplishment when “Golden Bubbles” was selected to represent local creative non-fiction writing for future classes in a book put together by the professor, Richard Terrill.
In the course of writing the non-fiction piece, the idea grew in my mind to put the story into a more accessible form, fiction based on fact. Mattie’s diary recorded her journey to the Klondike listing daily tasks, some finances, maps, a few harrowing experiences, and a running travelogue. However, she did not include any feelings, personal thoughts or much dialogue. Being one of VERY few women traveling to the gold fields, one wonders how her diary could be so banal. She truly had an amazing and unique adventure.
Over the next years I researched Mattie and Linden Lampman. I traveled to the North Dakota historical museum and found microfiche newspaper accounts of the Lampmans. I spent time at the Williston county courthouse with a delightful staff that helped me find records on the Lampman family plot of land. My husband and I drove to the exact homestead location. From there we drove the route (as close as possible in our car) to Portal, North Dakota where the Lampmans caught a train to Athabasca Landing. We then drove to Athabasca Landing where I saw the gold-rushers river landing. We viewed multitudes of tree stumps where would-be miners had chopped off trees to build rafts and boats. I spent time at the local historical museum and visited with the historians there about the types of crafts the miners built, talked to Indian re-enactors at a Hudsons’ Bay Fort about tanning hides, tepees, Indian tribes in Alaska, types of shelters, hunting practices, etc.
After the research, the writing began in earnest. I wrote off and on for several years. Raising four children with my husband, Tim took priority. I finally finished the project and sent it off to the slush pile of various publishing houses. My writing friend, Nancy Lowen, who was an editor for several years was kind enough to take Mattie as an editing project for her doctorate. She gave me many helpful suggestions for improvement. And now I’m working on polishing the manuscript.
The hard part for me is remaining true to the real characters, yet fictionalizing enough to make the tale more interesting, romantic, and fun.
Many years in the making. Many years in the drawer. Many years in the editing process. How many years to get it published? Only God knows. J
And that’s the back story.