When I engaged in my research about the construction of the first transcontinental railroad in preparation for writing my trilogy, I discovered the delightful, comprehensive reports that Henry Morton Stanley wrote for the St. Louis Missouri Democrat in the late 1860s. As a youth, I was fascinated with the history of world discovery and had read books about the man who uttered the famous phrase: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
In searching for books containing information about Stanley that would appeal to middle grade readers, I found two older history/biography books. Unfortunately, I have not located any historical fiction nor have I found any recent history books on the subject. Certainly, Stanley’s own autobiographies are readable by middle grade students. Stanley was a prolific writer, and his works cover all aspects of his interesting life.
Henry Stanley and the European Explorers of Africa by Steven Sherman, Chelsea House Publishers, New York and Philadelphia, 1993, presents a broad description of the better known explorers of Africa. Sherman introduces the reader to the efforts of several African explorers, including Mungo Park, Hugh Clapperton, Richard Burton, John Speke, and of course David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley. Sherman’s book includes a short summary of Stanley’s life prior to his explorations in Africa. The reference to his work as a journalist in the American West is brief and provides little information about that period of Stanley’s life. The book does contain extensive modern and period illustrations and maps that make for an interesting read.
James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Herald, impressed with Stanley’s writing, hired him to find the “long-lost” Dr. David Livingstone. Early in his journey into Africa, he happened to be present in 1869 at the opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt. It was this engineering feat that put an end to one of the hoped for benefits of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States. The railroad lost the anticipated China trade to the new canal.
Stanley continued deeper into Africa in his search for the missionary-doctor, and in late 1871 uttered: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Livingstone did not realize he was lost, and he did not want to be rescued. When Stanley returned to England, he was snubbed by the Royal Geographic Society. This so infuriated the new explorer that he subsequently embarked upon additional journeys throughout Africa, becoming the first known individual to cross the entire continent. His books describing his adventures became best sellers, and Stanley gained the reputation of being the greatest African explorer.
Perhaps my research contributed to the success of my first book, because on October 24, in Ft. Worth, Texas, Eagle Talons, The Iron Horse Chronicles—Book One, was awarded the 2015 Bronze Will Rogers Medallion for historical fiction for young readers. I obviously owe Henry Morton Stanley and his wonderfully descriptive writing for providing me with fascinating material to use about the rough and tumble life engaged in by the builders of the first transcontinental railroad.