I first heard of author Catherine Richmond a few years ago, when we both became part of the Transformational Fiction group for writers who write stories that deal with tough issues in the light of God’s redemption and grace. (Check out and “like” our Facebook page here!) But it wasn’t until this winter that I finally read her historical novel Through Rushing Water, about a young Russian woman who goes to teach on the Ponca Reservation in Dakota Territory in the 1870s. I knew nothing of the Poncas’ story before reading this book, and the heartbreak they endured moved me deeply, as did the reminders of God’s redemption and faithfulness Catherine weaves through the story.
Of course with my own writing about Native American history, I then wanted to connect with Catherine—and she graciously agreed to pay a visit to us all here today! I hope you enjoy hearing from her heart as much as I have.
1. Welcome, Catherine! Can you tell us a little about your writing journey? Did you always want to be a writer, or is it a dream that developed later? What was your journey to publication like?
I grew up thinking writers had to be British, male, and dead, like Robert Louis Stevenson and A.A. Milne. So I went into Occupational Therapy and have enjoyed a wonderful career. Then, in 1991 a folk song about a mail order bride sparked a story which became Spring For Susannah. I’ve been writing ever since.
2. How did you first learn about the Poncas and their story? What about this little-known saga of history gripped you in particular?
My dad taught during desegregation. My mom was on the board of the Black Heritage Museum. I attended the first integrated Vacation Bible School in Virginia. So I thought I knew about the Civil Rights Movement. But it wasn’t until we moved to Omaha that I learned the incredible story of Chief Standing Bear and the trial that gave Native Americans legal status.
3. How were the story and characters of Through Rushing Water born in your heart?
As I researched Standing Bear and the Ponca tribe, looking for way to share their struggle in a romance novel, I discovered one of the missionaries to the tribe was a Russian woman. Around that time, a woman with the same name taught French at an elite women’s college in New York. French was the language of the Russian court – could she have been a member of the nobility. Andwhy would someone leave what must have been one of the most comfortable jobs in the United States to become a missionary on a poorly-supplied Indian agency on the Dakota-Nebraska border? She would have been surrounded by people with a different skin color, different language, different culture. Their enormous needs must have overwhelmed her and their enormous faith humbled her. That sounded a lot like my experiences on mission trips to Jamaica. I knew I’d found my story’s heroine.
4. Did you make any special connections with people and/or places through doing your research for this book?
Did I ever! Okay, hang there – this is a bit convoluted. The missionaries to the Poncas were sent by the Episcopalian Church. So when the reservation closed, I moved my heroine to an Episcopalian school and church in Omaha. As I researched, I kept finding connections between the church and the trial of Standing Bear!
5. What do you hope readers take away from Through Rushing Water?
Learning the history of Native Americans is helpful in understanding Indians today. And I hope readers see how God’s people acted together to “seek justice and defend the oppressed” as the Bible says. We can do that today!
6. How did writing this book change you? What did the Lord teach you personally through the birthing of this story?
Several esteemed historians have written about the Ponca tribe and Standing Bear’s trial. What a privilege and blessing to share God’s role in this chapter of US history!
7. What other book(s) have you written? Do you have more in the works? How can readers connect with you and find/learn more about your books?
Spring for Susannah is published [as is Through Rushing Water] and I have another half dozen stories in various states of completion. This summer, my mom, a Virginia history librarian, and I are going on a road-trip to research a story about the old mineral springs resorts. I can’t wait to share it with readers! I’ll keep you posted through my website www.CatherineRichmond.com, https://www.facebook.com/catherinerichmondfans (where I mostly talk about chocolate!), and Twitter @WriterCatherine. Look forward to hearing from you!