Mason County Beat

Author's research brings her to Maysville 
Betty Coutant

 Whether a lesson is compelling or dry as dust depends mostly on how the information is presented. The history textbooks of teacher Tricia Martineau Wagner's two children fell in the former category compelling her to do something about it. There were other inducements, including a cross-country flight. Hurrying for a flight headed west out of Chicago, Wagner said the family made it to their seats harried, frustrated and out of breath. She was feeling the stress of it all when she looked out the window and imagined the wagon trains along the Oregon Trail and the hardships they faced. "I looked out the window and thought what am I complaining about? Those people faced real hardship.'" 
It was at that moment the idea for a book was conceived. It was a look at her children's textbooks that helped her decide on the form the book would take. A former elementary reading teacher, Wagner always had an interest in history. 
"The textbooks seemed so dry. I would read them and want to gag." Wagner said. 
Making the story interesting was at the top of the list, but presenting the stories in a fresh manner was also important. 
"I was looking for lesser known individuals that made big differences." Wagner said. "I wanted to write about people who were important, but maybe not as well-known." 
That book lead to a second and a third, which brings us to the point of this story. 
Her third book, "It Happened Along the Underground Railroad" is due out next year. 
As she began research for the third book Wagner came across Underground Railroad Conductor Arnold Gragston. Born a slave in Mason County, Gragston helped more than 200 slaves reach Ripley, Ohio and freedom before taking the trip himself. As luck would have it, Gragston lived long enough to tell his story to the government via an interview for the "Slave Narratives" program. He was 97 years old when he was interviewed. 
"I was so glad to come across Arnold Gragston," Wagner said. He's the key to making the history lesson interesting on a personal level. She researched Gragston, talking to relatives that still live in the area, amateur historians and museum personnel. "I wanted to honor Arnold Gragston by getting his story straight," Wagner said. 
The teacher turned writer learned some lessons as well. 
"A common misconception is that the slaves were portrayed as helpless people," Wagner said. In truth, the black community played a large role in the escape of slaves. "I learned just how proactive freed slaves and the free black community were helping slaves to freedom," she said. 
White abolitionists helped, but they generally had a different focus. "The white abolitionists were more about getting rid of slavery than helping slaves escape," Wagner said. Hopefully, readers will find the history lesson interesting. 
"History really comes alive when we realize these were real people who did extraordinary things." 
Her second book, "African American Women of the Old West" is due out February 2007. 
Wagner's publishing company is Globe Pequot Press and all three books will be available through or Barnes & Noble. 
She will be in Maysville April 21 and 22 to meet the people who helped her research for the book.

Mason County Beat 
April 13- April 19 
Vol. 1, Issue 47, page 17