Since it is the end of the year, the time of year that people often share gifts as demonstrations of love and caring, I’m posting this piece that I first wrote for Don Jimmy Reviews. Books make great gifts. They transport people to other times and places, touching hearts as they go. In addition to the books listed here I’d like to add May: The Hard-Rock Life Of Pioneer May Arkwright Hutton, by Mary Barmeyer O’Brien. Based on the true life of May Arkwright Hutton, it is the inspirational story of a woman who came west seeking her dreams and found them. Along the way she worked hard for women, children, and miners. Here is the link to the original: Courage and The West
Courage and the West
I’ve been lucky this past year to read several novels placed in the West. The first, Swift Dam, by Sid Gustafson, was about the Swift Dam flood in 1964 on the Blackfeet Reservation in Northwest Montana. It was the worst flood in Montana’s history. Swift Dam is a beautifully written, poetic novel that is both haunting and mesmerizing. Gustafson tells a story of love, loss, heartache, and forgiveness. He weaves complex relationships through courage and fear into a surprising end. It is about men and women living a hard life in a land that they love. It’s about staying in the saddle for the full ride. It is based on real heartache and loss, making the story all that much more poignant.
Walk The Promise Road
Next I read Walk The Promise Road by Anne Schroeder. This is a story full of so much love and courage I felt infused, like I could somehow walk across the continent and come to the other side of the land a better person. Cousins, Mary and Philip Rogers, travel west with a wagon train on the Oregon Trail in 1848 while pretending to be a married couple. Mary’s parents and brother just died of influenza and she convinces Philip to let her tag along on his journey. She is sworn to secrecy about their fake marriage. She, of course, falls for a trail hand and can’t tell him the truth. The hardships come of the trail itself. People die, animals die, sickness hits, food is hard, and the land is hard. Yet, there is nowhere to go but forward, with fortitude, perseverance and a good amount of daring, and bold audacity.
Then I read The Coming by David Osborne, the story of Daytime Smoke, William Clark’s alleged Nez Perce son. The novel takes place from the early to late 1800’s. The story is brilliant and so disturbing, in a way that made me want to shake some people and profoundly apologize to others. It is a fictionalized version of Daytime Smoke’s life from his early years into his old age, when he runs with Chief Joseph in an attempt to flee the brutality inflicted on his people by the invading military. The Nez Perce tribes were a rich spiritual people, living on the land with gratitude and grace. Not that there wasn’t infighting, but nothing like the cruelty inflicted by the “many shots” guns, and the greed that overtook the western forces. It was an interesting juxtaposition to read about the bravery of the settlers, many of whom I suspect were naïve to the cruel forces that allowed them to claim a piece of land for their own, land that previously belonged only to God or Creator and generously provided food and shelter to the tribes, and to read about the devastation of the tribal nations as the land was forbidden to them and they were sequestered to small reservations. The Nez Perce offered friendship and cooperation with the United States Government only to be betrayed by them, and at war with them. Daytime Smoke and his people were brutally murdered. They died for no reason other than trying to salvage their way of life, fighting with amazing courage to the bitter end.
Joy That Long Endures
The last western novel I read was Joy That Long Endures by Alethea Williams, a story about the gold rush days in the Wyoming Territory. A saloon owner, Dulcinetta Jackson, is bright, stubborn, and hard-hitting. She takes up with rather innocent Devin Cavanaugh. Dulcinetta wants respect, something hard to find in the mining world of rough drinkers, and Devin wants to be his own man, something he’s too young to truly understand. Together they take on the western world, or at least the Wyoming Territory, a land where even getting started dreaming takes a certain amount of guts and tenacity.
These stories are about the courage it takes to live in a hard land during hard times, standing up for justice, and trying to eke out a living. They are about innate courage and the strength to persevere and stand together. The lands and the times demanded that of the characters. Inspired by each book, I wanted to be a better person, to be a better writer. I felt compassion and allegiance to the characters, and grateful to the authors for tackling the tough subjects of the West and the past, for reaching deep into history to find the true heart and soul of what might have been. And I can’t help but feel that, through reading these stories, I have, in fact, grown, changed, and maybe, just maybe, become a better person, and hopefully a better writer. And that is some kind of good luck