Doc Maynard had a wife. Two of them, actually, and simultaneously, some say.
David S. “Doc” Maynard, one of Seattle’s more colorful founders, married Catherine Simmons Broshear Maynard, a widow he had met along the Oregon Trail. He married her almost immediately upon divorcing Lydia, his first wife, a decree granted via questionable–and later, contestable–conditions. (Doc may have implied that Lydia was…deceased….)
Catherine Maynard proved to be as legendary as her husband, helping thwart an attack on the settlers of Seattle, accepting for a time her husband’s first wife under her own roof, and traveling the state on horseback, riding from Seattle across the Cascades to Ellensburg, well into her 70s.
But she did one other thing which, 150 years later, affects every single Seattle homeowner.
Catherine Maynard brought the dandelion to Seattle.
Catherine Maynard brought the dandelion to Seattle for medicinal purposes, but it had other uses as well. In spring and summer, the leaves are gathered for salad greens and potherbs. The flowers are gathered for wine, jam, and teas. After the first frost, the roots are pulled up and used not only to make tonics but also a viable coffee substitute.
This is the kind of historical detail, the kind of lost fact that seems useless as any more than an amusing anecdote, a quirk of days gone by. It isn’t. For historical fiction, this is gold as bright as the petals of the flower she inflicted upon our lawns. This one little tidbit can blossom (pun intended) into images, scenes, even a chapter all on its own.
Think of it. Dandelions (from dent de lion, or “lion’s tooth,” referring to their deeply serrate leaves) need sun, but in the 1850s, Seattle was wooded down to the shore of the Sound, so land needed to be cleared. Now imagine tending them in the garden, a field of bright yellow flowers (you know…like the lawn of that guy down the street).
My next novel takes place here in Seattle, following two timelines, one modern and one historical. I’m just about to go into “research mode,” and you can bet good money that Mrs. Maynard’s dandelions are going to make an appearance.