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‘Horrific’ legacy: ‘Ghost River’ a ‘story of resilience’ of tribe after massacre

The cover of “Ghost River: The Fall & Rise of the Conestoga.” (Courtesy of Library Company of Philadelphia)

Lee Francis and writing are a match made in heaven.

The Albuquerque-based writer was chosen to work on the graphic novel “Ghost River: The Fall & Rise of the Conestoga.”

It’s a project has kept him busy for the better part of a year.

In fact, the exhibition, “Redrawing History: Indigenous Perspectives on Colonial America” was shown at the Library Company of Philadelphia in November.

The novel is a reinterpretation of the Paxton Boys massacre of 1763 and Pamphlet War of 1764.

The watershed attack on an innocent group of Conestoga Indians, also known as Susquehannock people, just outside Harrisburg and the ensuing viral print debate of their actions not only reshaped Pennsylvania’s politics but paved the way for Indian removal policies in the westward expansion of our early nation..

An illustration from “Ghost River: The Fall & Rise of the Conestoga.” (Courtesy of Library Company of Philadelphia)

The novel imagines a perspective of these actions from the voices of the Conestogas. By focusing on the indigenous peoples at the center of this tragic and complex story, “Ghost River” promotes discussion about current themes of hate violence, multiracial democracy, and fake news.

“Being able to write this version is exciting for me and to tell the story of Native people,” Francis says. “We get the remains of history, and we have incredibly rich stories, and to be able to reconstruct the narrative and make it more about a story of resilience. The people of that area and the massacre, it was horrific for them.”

Francis will give a talk Saturday, Jan. 11 at Red Planet Books & Comics.

The novel was released Dec. 4.

Francis says the project took more than a year. He began working on it in August 2018.

Inside the graphic novel. (Courtesy of Library Company of Philadelphia)

“I tried to make sure that we gave the proper voice to the people and also making sure we represent our community,” he says. “Indigenous representation. I know I’m accountable to the community. It had to be positive and dynamic.”

Francis is from Laguna Pueblo, and he wanted to put his best foot forward.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” he says. “I had to make sure that it was written and conceptualized in the way of telling how resilient these people are. Yes, they went through a very dark time, but they are still around, making a difference. That is their legacy.”

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