My Current Writing Project

“It was early in the spring of 1863, when the wagon train which was captained by my grandfather, Selleck Madison Fitzgerald, left Keosaqua, Iowa, on its way across the plains. The train consisted of twenty wagons, and about one hundred seventy five men, women and children. The wagons were drawn by horses, four to a wagon—not oxen, as many of the trains were. My grandfather was twenty-two years old, and was said to have been the youngest man to captain a wagon train across the plains to California.”

So begins the biography of my maternal great-grandfather, Roy M. Fitzgerald, raised by his grandfather, Selleck, and his wife after Roy’s mother died during childbirth. This fascinating biography, which among other things, recalls Roy’s boyhood in 1890s Montana, and his years as a tourist coach driver and trail horse guide in Yellowstone Park during the early 1900s, was recently re-discovered by a family member in a box of papers, where it had languished since 1972, the year of Roy’s death.

Although Roy Fitzgerald had only an eighth grade education, and worked as a coach driver, trail guide, miner, millwright, carpenter, rancher, and laborer his narrative is ambitious and lively, covering most of his life (1887-1972) and comprising over 105,000 words. It was his intention to have this work published, both as his legacy to his family, and to document the early years of Yellowstone Park and nearby Gardiner, Montana, where his grandfather, Selleck, had been an early settler and owner of the first hotel.

He wrote the draft in longhand and in pencil, covering first one side of a notebook, then turning it over and continuing on the back side. Despite this, and his advanced age (Most of the manuscript was written in the three or four years before is death.) the original is quite legible, so I am able to compare it with a typed first copy, which he completed with the help of a friend and his daughter.

My purpose in transcribing his autobiography is two-fold. First: To record the entire work in pdf format for easy distribution to all family members. Secondly: To create an abbreviated version, corrected, foot-noted, edited, and with some repetitions left out (but still preserving Roy’s voice) for possible publication.

The original notebooks will be scanned, preserving the images for family members and interested historians of turn of the century Montana, Yellowstone Park, the Klamath Falls area of Oregon, and the early mining towns of Goldfield and Tonopah, Nevada—all areas he describes in this record of his wide-ranging travels through the early twentieth century West—a place and time which he documents with insight, humor, and an eye for  detail which is the equal to any description of family life in that era that I have encountered.

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