March 28, 2020 by Pamela Nowak
Over the next few weeks, I want to share a bit about the families who lived at Lake Shetek, their histories, my research into them, and the characters I created. But, I’m also leaving some holes in what I reveal. After all, I want to encourage you to read the book.
On August 20, 1862, there were nine families residing at the Lake Shetek settlement, stretched around a mile apart along the eastern shore. The Eastlick family was one of them. Lavina Eastlick was among the women who survived the first day and is one of the main characters in NEVER LET GO.
Lavina left a good deal of information about her experiences during the attack on the settlement. In 1864, she published A Personal Narrative of Indian Massacres 1862. This booklet provided a moment-by-moment overview of what occurred on August 20, 1862 and the days thereafter. As well, Lavina provided a few details on her life prior to those events and clues to her personality. This was an invaluable tool in shaping that part of my novel and in creating Lavina’s character.
Still, she did not tell us everything about her life so research was needed.
Lavina and her husband both showed up in multiple census and other vital records and on fairly accurate family trees within Ancestry and FamilySearch; family obituaries were listed on Find-a-Grave with information verified by official vital records. Lavina also filed a depredation claim which provided information on family member ages and property owned. Dr. Workman relied on her booklet to provide her information. Other settlers helped round out the period during which they lived at the lake prior to August 20, 1862.
John Eastlick was born in 1823 in Ashtabula, Ohio. Census records reveal his family had recently moved to that area, living previously in New York and New Jersey. They’d been in America since the 1700s. Lavina Day was born in 1833 in either Vermont or New York (census records cite both and I could locate no birth records and there were no census records her early years). She was the youngest child in a family of ten children with a sister dying prior to her birth. Her father was a blacksmith and both parents were in their late forties when Lavina was born. It appears her generation was the sixth born in America.
Though the reason is unclear, Lavina moved to Ohio when she was fifteen to live with her brother Leicester and his family. Census records show her parents were still living but they would have been in their sixties. Lavina’s booklet reveals she was a strong woman with a willingness to move westward. I chose to use that clue to shape her personality and craft her as a teen eager to venture out on her own.
John was ten years older that Lavina and no doubt already established in Ohio. They married two years after she arrived in the area. Vital records indicate they moved to Illinois, then to Olmstead County, Minnesota (an Ancestry family tree also indicates Indiana but there is no vital record citation). This matches well with Lavina’s own account in her booklet that John was always seeking more opportunity. She makes it clear that he farmed and that they met the Ireland family while in Illinois. That is confirmed by Tommy Ireland’s accounts and by vital records. The Ireland family moved to Olmstead County and on to Lake Shetek with the Eastlicks.
I found it interesting that the Irelands and Eastlicks lived in the same area as the Duleys and in fact, according to interviews conducted by Workman, all three families arrived at the lake together. I used the Dakota Land Company details to create motivation for the move.
The Eastlicks arrived at Lake Shetek less than a year prior to the attack (November 1861) and we have few details about their life at the lake. Some accounts do indicate their children’s playmates, their living arrangements, and that they participated in the Independence Day picnic. Lavina herself does not mention much about life there prior to the day of the attack.
Beyond suspecting she had an independent spirit, there are few clues to Lavina’s personality. This meant I had to read between the lines in Lavina’s own booklet. While she described her hair as thick and heavy, I had to look deeper for indications of how she and John felt about the Dakota by examining the wording she used and how she described events. She used much of the disparaging adjectives of her time to refer to the Sioux, an indication that she held some bias yet she also indicates her family traded with them. She makes little attempt to understand their situation. Still, this was very common among Whites of her time so I chose to portray her as less prejudiced than Laura Duley.
Her account indicates John was among those who shot Lean Bear. She also describes extremely violent deaths for some of her children. There is no way to know whether or not bias or sensationalism (to sell the booklet) played into how she shaped her account. I chose to utilize the fact that John was involved in the shooting to motivate the Dakota response.
Lavina’s telling of the attack offers deep detail. In review of it, I tried to compare it to other accounts, looking for differences and similarities, especially in terms of the order of events and the timing. In timing especially, I looked for places where adjustments were necessary. The booklet also gives a deep glimpse into how Lavina dealt with events. She conveyed herself as a woman who was used to dealing with life events in the most practical manner, making decisions as necessary for the good of her family. That was a trait I applied to the character I created for her, throughout the novel.
The account, as well as the research already conducted by John Isch for his book and the ample supply of vital records also supplied a lot of detail about Lavina’s life after 1862. She married Wat Smith, another Lake Shetek resident, promptly divorcing him. The divorce records indicate he was upset that she was neglecting her wifely duties by traveling to promote her booklet; she accused him of seeking financial gain from the publication. The marriage ended after a few months. She then married Soloman Petterman, who left to visit his family and never returned. Lavina, pregnant at the time, raised her daughter Laura on her own with help from her surviving sons.
Merton, her oldest son, was made famous by her booklet but died of pneumonia at age 24. Johnny farmed near Lavina in the Mankato area. After Laura married, Lavina moved with her to Alberta, Canada and died there in 1923.
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As I count down to my July 2020 release of NEVER LET GO, I’ll be posting weekly blogs about the history of Lake Shetek, the Dakota Conflict or the people and cultures involved. Or, I may touch on the writing process or interesting tidbits included in the novel.
For more details on the novel, please visit my HOME page.