Wandering Scots Book Club

Welcome to the first online book club to explore Scottish American history.  Wandering Scots explores the history of Scotland and Scots.  On the pages of great historical fiction we will meet Scots still living in Scotland and some who just ‘got off the boat’ so to speak, as well as descendants of Scottish immigrants who have shaped America to, perhaps, a greater extent than any other group of immigrants and their offspring.  Special guests will make sense of the historical and cultural aspects of the books and help us learn more about who we are as Scottish Americans and how we have helped to shape our nation and the world.

Here is how it works:  We announce the book selection(s).  Typically we will be pairing two Spotlight Books together back to back to gain further depth of understanding into complex and interesting topics.  We will also provide links to various background materials that will help you understand and contextualize the Spotlight Books better.  Readers can discuss the books and their thoughts through comments here on the Wandering Scots Book Club page of the COSCA website.

If you are on Facebook we have set up a special Wandering Scots Book Club group (www.Facebook.com/groups/WanderingScots) where you can join an online social media discussion while you are reading and see what others are saying, including our special guest commentators.

The best part will be when you can join other Wandering Scots and our special commentators online for live video discussion groups where you will have a chance to ask questions and offer comments and ideas along with the book’s author and the other special guests.

So join us on an incredible and fun adventure through the history of the Scot in America!

Current Topic & Books: 

TOPIC:  Scots In The West!

John Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt at Yosemite

John Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt at Yosemite

As we begin to explore more of the history of Scots in America we open a new chapter out west.  What an exciting, complex, troubling and beautiful story. From the Mackenzies following trade inward from the Pacific Northwest to the Scots defenders of the Alamo the American west has drawn Scots in serious numbers. Their stories are diverse as they came for an equally wide range of reasons on many different missions.

Perhaps more than anywhere else in America, the Scots who came way out West defined their world in ways that are still quite evident today.  For western Scots in the 19th and early 20th centuries it was all about the land.  Who owned it, who used it, who fenced it, who exploited it and who protected it.

John Muir was one of the most influential of these western Scots.  Lady Isabella Bird was one of the most eloquent, curious, feisty 10047066and entertaining.  As a wee backgrounder to begin our WSBC Topic Scots In The West, we pair these two western explorers with Scottish roots and let them introduce their remarkable 19th century western landscape in their own words.

A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains,
by Isabella Bird

These are the descriptive letters, written in 1873, by Isabella Bird, a courageous and spirited British woman living in Edinburgh, recounting for her sister her adventures on horseback over 800 miles of American wilderness.  Lady Bird’s setting is the imposing and wild landscapes of the Colorado mountains.  For those of you who know the Longs Peak Scottish Festival in Estes Park you will recognize many of the scenes that Lady Bird describes as they existed before the turn of the 20th Century.  It was a wild and unsettled place in those days and Lady Isabella Bird has a lovely way of telling her amazing tale.

JOMUoverviewLGThe Story of My Boyhood and Youth, Stickeen andThe Grand Canyon of the Colorado
by John Muir

Our recommendation is read anything and everything by John Muir and you will likely enjoy it.  For the book club however, lets take a particularly close look at the three works referenced above.  The first, The Story Of My Boyhood and Youth is Muir’s unfinished autobiography and traces his boyhood in Dunbar, Scotland and in the American midwest after his family emigrated.  Stickeen is a short tale of Muir and a wee dug and a particularly adventurous walk they take together along an Alaskan glacier.  Finally, check out Muir’s description of America’s national treasure The Grand Canyon of the Coloradobefore the wild Colorado River was harnessed by dams, tourists and water projects.

So There You Have It!

The next WSBC Topic and the first reads.  Time to open a few new books.  Now, we are delighted to announce that the first Scots In The West Video Hangout will convene on Friday, April 17th as part of COSCA’s 4th Annual Scottish Caucus at Historic Rural Hill, North Carolina.  As usual, we will live stream and record the Scots In The West Hangout.  More details coming.  It’s going to be a good one.  Stay tuned!

 [THE ARCHIVE BELOW:  Past Books Selections & Discussion]

TOPIC:  200 Years Of Scottish Historical Fiction – Waverley to Outlander

New Blog Posts Just Out:
Save The Date:  January 31 Waverley – Outlander Video Panel Shapes Up To Be Awesome!
Two True ‘Wandering Scots’ Team Up To Help Guide COSCA’s Wandering Scots Book Club
Getting Started With Waverley – A Few Suggestions

Check it out and join in the discussion.

 It Is Official!  Sir Walter Scott’s WAVERLEY and Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER together at last!

Ready to Read?  WSBC is delighted to announce that the first Spotlight Books for the new year keenly represent our first Topic:  200 Years Of Scottish Historical Fiction.  Get the Waverley Outlander Backgrounder to dig in!

We will first read and discuss Scott’s remarkable novel Waverley, known to be the first work of historical fiction – anywhere.  Waverley Titlepage waverleyis a romantic and exciting work that follows the young and dashing protagonist Edward Waverley – a sassanach but a ultimately a reluctant Jacobite sassanach – through a dangerous and amazing journey in the rebellious jacobite Scottish highlands and even down to Edinburgh to meet the young Pretender!

outlander (1)As many know, Diana Gabaldon’s incredible Outlander series begins with the same Scottish highlands and the same Jacobite ’45 rising and follows Outlander’s famous couple, Jamie and Claire Fraser though many of the same places and spots meeting the same folks as Walter Scott’s Edward Waverley had done 200 years since.


Sir Walter Scott’s highland clan Chief Fergus MacIvor, Prince Charlie and Edward Waverley – first meeting Edinburgh, 1745

Get the books now and start reading because on January 31, 2015 we will bring Outlander author Diana Gabaldon and a slate of outstanding Scottish scholars and experts together for our first Video Discussion Panel of the year.  Panel Moderator and Sir Walter Scott scholar Dr. Caroline E. McCracken-Flesher will guide the panel through a fascinating comparison between these two enduring pieces of Scottish historical fiction.

Outlander’s young passionate highland Chieftain Jamie &  wife Claire Fraser and followers

We will focus more closely on the Outlander series in our second Chapter of this Topic beginning on February 1, 2015.  The Video Discussion Panel will follow at the end of February (final date TBD).  We are chuffed as we can be that the dynamic Diana Gabaldon will join us for this panel as well, as we explore further into Jamie, Claire and all of the Outlander characters’ journeys, particularly as they emigrate to North Carolina and become, eventually, Scottish Americans.

We have put together an outstanding selection of background materials to get you ready to join the discussions to come.  Check out the entire schedule, Video Discussion Panelists and get links to the background resources with the Waverley Outlander Backgrounder.

Are you excited?  We are!  



Teasing Out The Diaspora’s Indigenous Roots

Scotland is a melting pot – a very old and complex one.  We know bits and pieces of the ancient and diverse recipe but it is rarely foremost in our minds when we try to conjure up ideas of the famed Scottish ‘identity’.  Instead, we try to find that one set of characteristics that can be compiled into one monolithic idea of Scottishness.

In the Wandering Scots Book Club, we continue to be intrigued by the insights into deeper understanding of early Scottish emigrants as well as insights into 18th Century Scottish – British relationships that can be gained by exploring the relationship between Scottish immigrants and the varied indigenous North American people that lived in what would eventually become America. While I am a believer in the basic adage that ‘coincidence does not equal causation’, as a comparative study there is surely significance in much of the story.

Read more here.


Past book selections:

The Fort

1. The Fort by Bernard Cornwall (2010): This book is chock full of military and non military Scots of various backgrounds, perspectives and behaviors. The events chronicled in The Fort occur several decades after the events of our first book Bone Rattler. While our first book was set during the French and Indian (7 Years) War, The Fort is set in the middle of America’s next war – The Revolutionary War.

Here is what GoodReads.com had to say about The Fort:

“Told by some, the American War for Independence was a string of victories interrupted only by one frigid winter in Valley Forge. Unfortunately, the real story was somewhat different. In his new tightly-threaded historical novel, Bernard Cornwell recaptures the chaos and distress of a misbegotten 1779 Patriot offensive on Maine’s Penobscot River. With searing clarity, he etches living pictures of inexperienced colonial troops plagued by incompetent leadership and well-trained Redcoat soldiers and sailors. Stirring man-against-man battle scenes; betrayals, cowardice, and unexpected bravery. Carefully researched and well-executed historical military fiction.”

Selection of The Fort as our next book would allow the group to continue exploration of Scottish American history chronologically and this time really focus on the intriguing topic of Scots in the American Revolution: Which side(s) were they on and why?

mzi.bpepuecl.340x340-752. Eye Of The Raven by Eliot Pattison (2010): The next in the “Bone Rattler” series of colonial American mysteries:

With the aid of the Indian Shaman Conawago, Duncan McCallum has begun to heal from the massacre of his Highland clan by the British. But his new life is shattered when he and Conawago discover a dying Virginian officer nailed to an Indian shrine tree. To their horror, the authorities arrest Conawago and schedule his hanging. As Duncan begins a desperate search for the truth, he finds himself in a maelstrom of deception and violence. The year is 1760, and while the British army wishes to dismiss the killing as another casualty of its war with France, Duncan discovers a pattern of ritualistic murders that have less to do with the war than with provincial treaty negotiations and struggles between tribal factions. Ultimately he realizes that to find justice, he must brave the sprawling colonial capital of Philadelphia. There the answers are to be found in a tangle of Quakers, Christian Indians, and a scientist obsessed with the electrical experiments of the celebrated Dr. Franklin. With the tragic resolution in sight, Duncan understands the real mysteries underlying his quest lie in the hearts of natives who, like his Highland Scots, have glimpsed the end of their world approaching.

Eliot’s second book is even more a page turner than the first and the main characters are continued and even more fully developed always on the edge of the frontier and the American wilderness. The choice of Eye Of The Raven would allow the group a great chance to dig deeper into the fascinating and diverse discussion and exploration of the Scottish immigrants and the native tribes of British North America.


NEWEST BLOG: Eliot Pattison on Highlanders and Natives – A Visceral Relationship:  Read it HERE!

WELCOME ALL to the Wandering Scots Book Club, an educational project of the Council of Scottish Clans & Associations (www.COSCA.net).  Right now we are reading a fabulous Scottish American mystery set in early colonial America by award winning author Eliot Pattison.  The book is called Bone Rattler and we will be convening and recording our first On Air panel discussion of some intriguing Scottish and Native American aspects of the work this Saturday, Feb. 8th at 11:00am EST.  WATCH THIS SPACE for upcoming details about the first Wandering Scots Google+ Hangout On Air including how you can join on Saturday and all of the other important Wandering Scots news and information!

WATCH THE “Bone Rattler” ON AIR PANEL DISCUSSION!  It’s OK if you slept in and missed our awesome expert panel discussing the Scottish American aspects of “Bone Rattler”.  We recorded it for you.  CLICK HERE AND ENJOY!

THE PANEL INCLUDES our special guest commentators Eliot Pattison, Tanja Bueltmann and Scott Perez.  Learn more about each of these folks below.

LIKE TO TWEET? Fabulous! Tweet about the Wandering Scots Book club using hashtag ‪#‎WanderingScots‬ and we’ll follow along and join in.

WATCH THIS SPACE for more details about discussion topics and background for the NEXT Wandering Scots Google+ Hangout On Air!


Current Book Selection and Discussion Topic

books_cover_boneAboard a British convict ship bound for the new world, exiled clan chief Duncan McCallum witnesses a bizarre series of murders and suicides among his fellow highland Scot prisoners. Compelled by the masters of his prison company to resolve the crimes while remaining a prisoner, Duncan soon makes a fearful discovery.”

We are thrilled to begin the Wandering Scots Book Club with award winning author Eliot Pattison’s Bone Rattler.  Bone Rattler is the first in a series of mysteries set in colonial Pennsylvania and the western Ohio country during the French and Indian Wars of the mid-18th century.  This was a remarkably conflict ridden, lawless and violent time during which world powers and native peoples were intertwined across two continents. The primary topic that the book explores is the interaction between Scots highlanders and various native peoples including the Iroquois Confederacy.  Bone Rattler gives us a glimpse into an extremely complex and long term relationship between these two indigenous peoples, both of whom were violently displaced by the British Empire – Scots expelled from the highlands following the ’45 Rising and of course, Native tribes in North America that did little more than exist where British settlers wanted to be to warrant expulsion.  In Bone Rattler, Eliot Pattison provides an outstanding point of beginning from which to explore a complex and often inconsistent story that has had profound implications for America. Read more about the Bone Rattler Series and its author Eliot Pattison HERE.

Special Guest Commentaters

bueltmanDr. Tanja Bueltmann:  PhD, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.   Faculty at University of Northumbria.  Tanja’s focus is on research and writing concerning the Scottish Diaspora.  Her most recent book is a comprehensive view of a remarkable global diaspora: “The Scottish Diaspora” by Tanja Bueltmann, Andrew Hinson and Graeme Morton.  Check out Tanja’s great blog HERE.

Scott Perez: M.S., PhD (candidate), Cornell University.  Scott’s graduate work is in the interface of Indigenous and mainstream culture in America.  He grew up in the Midwest with a very diverse cultural and ethnic background:  Scottish American (Clan Drummond) and Mohawk (Bear Clan).  Scott’s Drummond ancestors came to America after the ’45 rising.Perez

Scott spent a number of years working in Native communities, including the Mohawk Nation and has studied the relationship between Scots immigrants and Native American peoples.  An elder told him that it was important that he also study and understand the rest of his ancestry which led to his research into Scotland and Ireland.  Though there are many differences, the similarities in the clan systems and the spiritual beliefs and traditions, pre-Christianity, caught his attention as did the relationship between the Scots immigrants and Native American peoples.

PattisonPhotoEliot Pattison:  Author.  Eliot Pattison has been described as a “writer of faraway mysteries,” a label which is particularly apt for someone whose travel and interests span such a broad spectrum. After reaching a million miles of global trekking, visiting every continent but Antarctica, Pattison stopped logging his miles and set his compass for the unknown. Today he avoids well-trodden paths whenever possible, in favor of wilderness, lesser known historical venues, and encounters with indigenous peoples.

Pattison’s longtime interest in another “faraway” place –the 18th century American wilderness and its woodland Indians– led to the launch of his Bone Rattler series, which quickly won critical acclaim for its poignant presentation of Scottish outcasts and Indians during the upheaval of the French and Indian War. In Pattison’s words, “this was an extraordinary time that bred the extraordinary people who gave birth to America,” and the lessons offered by the human drama in that long-ago wilderness remain fresh and compelling today.

BONE RATTLER DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:  To get your thinking cap operating at full power take a look at the Author’s Discussion Questions:

When he is called upon to investigate a grisly murder on board his prison ship Duncan McCallum assumes it is but a way for his English masters to complete the destruction of his Highland clan started years earlier. Forced to renounce all things Scottish since he was a boy, unfairly condemned to hard labor in America, Duncan is about to leap into the sea when an old Scot persuades him that Duncan is now the chief of his near-extinct clan, duty bound to survive and protect the Scottish prisoners from the bizarre events which have brought murder and suicide to their ranks. The hope that rises as Duncan begins to decipher those mysteries is soon overshadowed by a fearful discovery: the violence on board is somehow linked to the savages of the American wilderness. Though he has never before set foot in the New World, he is attacked by an Indian upon landing in New York, yet another Indian dies urgently trying to get a message to him. Accosted by an army officer, followed by an American ranger, shamed when the fragile daughter of the prison company’s patron is kidnapped by the Iroquois, he begins to realize that he and the company are meant to somehow be sacrificed in the bloody war with the French and Indians-and the only solution is for Duncan to escape into the terrifying wilderness to follow a strange path of clues that seem half Highland Scot and half Iroquois. Duncan’s journey through the wilderness, crossing the paths of settlers, German missionaries, and Indian sorcerers, leads him to a rough and painful justice which transforms him and his friends forever. With the epic struggles of the 18th century as its backdrop, Bone Rattler is not simply a tale about a hard won triumph of justice but also one about the triumph of the human spirit.

For Discussion

1. How do the Bone Rattler plot lines and characters build upon similarities between the Scottish and Iroquois cultures?

2. How does the woodland Indian culture presented in the novel affect the political dynamic underlying the plot of Bone Rattler?

3. Pattison has often noted that his books ultimately are about the nature of justice, which can mean different things to different people. Does Bone Rattler suggest that there is a “natural” form of justice that exists without laws and courts? Does the justice sought by the Scots differ from that sought by the Indians?

4. Most history books present 18th century America in terms of aristocrats and wealthy planters. Why does Pattison present this period through the eyes of exiles and outcasts? How might this relate to his statement that in Bone Rattler he seeks to bring to life the invisible people who really formed America?

5. In the second chapter, speaking of Duncan’s duty to his lost Scottish clan, Lister states “There’s the rub. Ye’ll never have their world. But ye’ll always have their name.” How does this become a theme in the novel? In early America?

6. “The darkness there is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Lister warns of the western forest across the river from Edentown. “Worse than the blackest sea in the blackest storm. Ye can read the sea, but ye can’t read that. There is no bottom to it, there is just black behind the black…There is no soul alive who’s been from one side to the other…Go into it and the clan dies.” How does Pattison use the American wilderness as another character in his novel?

7. In what ways might Sarah Ramsey be considered representative of an emerging “American” woman?

8. “When all the land’s gone there will be only things in your world,” the Iroquois shaman declares to Lord Ramsey as he tries to understand the English. “Will those things have life?” How do differing views of the earth and wilderness drive the English and the Indians in this novel?

9. The parallels between the plight of the Highland Scots and the plight of the American Indians resonate deeply with Duncan by the end of the novel. What parallels do you see beyond their unfair treatment by the British king?

10. What do you think Pattison means in his closing note that sometimes historical fiction can strike closer to the truth than history books?