Author's Note about the history behind A Wounded Snake

The Standard column cited in the novel’s opening concerning William Littlefield and the shooting in Mississippi comes directly from the paper as reprinted in The Morning Herald in 1898. All other Standard columns are fictionalized.

The poem used by Noah in his county school is by Benjamin. It was published in a collection of his called Poetic Gems in 1883.

It is challenging to write a novel based on so much historical fact. A Wounded Snake blends accurate historical data—the killing of Robert O’Hara Benjamin—with imagined responses: the rest in the church on the way home. It does the same with the school “riots” in Cadentown which did take place. The women were arrested on Judge Frank Bullock’s orders under the infamous KKK law. However, all of the circumstances around that disturbance have been imagined. Judge Frank Bullock was a real figure who both presided over  Mike Moynahan’s pre-trial and released him and did rule in favor of hundreds of challenged black voters.  And bullets did come from his windows in 1920 at the Will Lockett  race riot.  He was even accused of shooting them himself though the explanation of soldiers posted in his office was finally accepted.

Much of the novel’s perspective is shared by completely fictional characters such as Noah Webster, Lizzie Price, Jake the Bartender, Mamma, or a real-life figure, Maria Lulu Benjamin, whom we know nothing about except that she was married to Benjamin, had two children, and went home to Alabama to die.  Even the historic characters such as Billy Klair, Judge Bullock, and even Robert O’Hara Benjamin, are in great deal my novelistic creations. These characters talk of real things, notably the treatment of black jockeys and their removal from the sport they once completely dominated. They get into real fights such as the one over the approaches to black education as espoused by Booker T. Washington and W.E. Dubois.

The long struggle in Kentucky over women’s suffrage took on a local character as the limited franchise for school board elections and its repeal (initiated by real-life Billy Klair) has both fictional and historical accuracy. Madeline McDowell Breckinridge’s role in that struggle and her perceived racism are still a topic of great debate. The novel’s characters express their own judgment. 

I have tried to be faithful to my reading of history even as I let my novelist’s imagination create and extend drama.  The snake of racism took different form in Kentucky, a border state, than it did further south or further north. Sometimes that racism took on a virulent and violent form as some characters’ use of the N word demonstrates. Often, though, that racism was more subtle and “polite” but nevertheless accomplished the work of exclusion and debasement.

            The wish to make real and current that historic struggle to cross the borders set by race, gender, class, is the main objective of my fictionalized story. I hope I have told it well.  -- Joe