I love it when the perfect research source turns up on the first page of a Google search. For WILLA, I need to learn about 18th century naturalists in the American Colonies, the Revolutionary War, and just after.

Willa stood over the man. His brows were tightly bunched now. The evidence of pain roused her into action. She began unloading her basket. When the man still hadn’t stirred by the time she lit the fire, so conveniently laid for her, and swung the water likewise provided nearer the flames, she checked to be sure he was still breathing, then removed from the travois the items she had found at the base of the ridge where he had fallen, and set them in a row beside the hearth.

What were those items?

Anticipating that I’d need to know in some detail as I wrote WILLA, I found Cathy Johnson’s site. Cathy is a living historian who has set up “as a working artist/naturalist of the early 19th century.” She’s also published her expertise in book form, which I have open before me.

“The living historian literally tries to bring the past to life, to breathe the breath of humanity into dry facts by dress, speech and action. It’s a kind of performance history, an on-the-spot reenactment of a time from our past.”

Cathy’s book, DRAWING ON THE PAST (Graphics/Fine Arts Press) is full of drawings of the equipment early naturalists would have taken into the field.

So what did Willa remove from the travois?

Canteen, large satchel, narrow leather pouch. A small round glass with a handle. And a strange container made of tin, round-sided and long, with a strap for carrying and a sliding wire pin for a clasp. The blanket she had found with him was damp. She spread it on the floor to dry.

Certainly not an exhaustive list of the equipment such a naturalist would have with him, but why this particular naturalist is missing the greater part of his gear… that’s a story that will be told in other places.

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