First of all, the name.
I did not create the name Aaboukingon. It actually came up in a list of alternate names for the Ohio River, and was cited as having an origin in one of the languages of the Native Americans. This has proven hard to determine; the chain of citation for that name, or at least the only chain I found, ends at a paper written in 1910 by one E.L. Taylor. "La Salle's Route Down the Ohio," in the Ohio History Journal, was part of an ongoing debate about a journey taken in 1669 which may or may not have been the first time a European had seen the Ohio River. I have no idea if this debate has ever been settled. Taylor makes the case that the translation work being cited by an alternate theory is incorrect, and as part of his argument notes that Aaboukingon is one of the variant names used by the peoples who lived near the Ohio. He gives no further information and I have not at this time found anything that clarified what language this name would have been used in, or what their relationship to the river was. Presumably La Salle's own notes would give more light, if he used that name in his notes, but this would rely on finding his notes (which I did not do) and then translating them (presumably from French, which I am not adequately prepared to do). So in the end I had to just accept Taylor's description.
Alternate names for the Ohio would actually have still been a matter of some importance at the time of "Land of Goshen." The United States Geological Survey did not settle on a name for the river until 1931, so it had different names at different places and sometimes conflicting names in the same place. The story assumes that the crew of the Hastings used what was, at the time, a common practice around Pittsburgh where the Ohio River was not seen as a separate body but as a part of the Allegheny. This is why the crew talk about the Allegheny "above and below Pittsburg;" below (downstream) of Pittsburgh would be the Ohio. Incidentally, the spelling of the city was not yet formalized in 1905, either. I purposefully incorporated common misspellings used at the time.
Anyway, as such, I avoided any specific references to who, exactly, Aaboukingon was to his people. While Aaboukingon, one of the spirits of the Ohio River, remembers interacting with people who do not look European (as he himself doesn't), no record exists in Tall Tales about the nature of those interactions. I felt that it was more respectful than guessing or using stereotypes. Some may raise concerns about me using the name at all. There is little I can say regarding that matter except that I needed a name older than the Europeans would have used, and have tried to use it in a way that did not misrepresent anyone. Being that this story can still be edited, I would welcome constructive feedback on how to make it more appropriate, but I'm sure you understand I have little use for complaints that offer no better solution.
But that brings us to our next point, that Aaboukingon is a river spirit. He would be considered a god in some cultures, though I have no evidence he was in the culture that used his name. It is likely he remembered far more than Joanna recorded, but since he isn't doing the writing I get to avoid giving bad details.
As a notable river spirit of a large river, Aaboukingon is among the more powerful nature spirits in the world. He pales in comparison to others, like the primary spirit of the Nile or Amazon, and the exact power balance between nature spirits and other spirits vary somewhat; but it is safe to say that he is far stronger than he even seems to realize in his interactions so far. But his power, and life force, are tied to the river itself. This is a major driving force of the plot of "Land of Goshen." More about his power will be addressed in a future post.
As I was trying to work out some more details about the story, I came across "The Stable Song" by Gregory Alan Isakov, which I have included in this post. Feel free to take a listen. The song evoked something in me, and I latched onto it immediately. As I learned the lyrics, I found myself imagining situations that would suit the song. I considered the idea of doing a short story called "The Stable Song" and directly translating the story to the world of Tall Tales, if I could secure permission from Isakov. I never actually reached out to him, I don't know how I would have even done that, but as I was thinking through what that would even look like I began to see some ways to fill holes in the plot I had been working on for Joanna.
The story I originally developed based on the lyrics and feel of the song were heavily adapted. Most parts were scrapped entirely. Some were changed so that the general imagery still worked, but it was absolutely not the same details. One detail that remained fairly well intact was the line "ring out those ghosts on the Ohio" which became a silver bell, etched with strange markings, that disturbed a river spirit from its slumber. The end result is a story that doesn't really quite fit with the song, but I think the song's influence can still be felt. They are closely related in my mind, now. I can imagine scenes of Joanna and Aaboukingon when I hear the song, I can hear the song in my head when I'm writing the story. Listen, and read, and see if you can find some of the same connections.
What is this?
Worldbuilding Wednesdays is a real-world blog, written by Tim McLaughlin, that gives a little peek behind the curtain of Tall Tales. That includes the process of creating the story and world, influences, world rules, and even the occasional story.