Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “pioneers”

Of Pioneers

Image DetailImage Detail








I don’t know when I first became interested in pioneer stories.  No doubt Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House on the Prairie books had some influence.  There is something about establishing one’s mark upon the landscape, the taming of the wilderness, the making of a home and creating a legacy that is so very appealing.  As a child I have fond memories of my family’s little cabin in the woods, the weekend getaway we built together. Helping my father hack down sticker bushes to clear the building site, learning how to shingle the roof, chopping wood, digging up clams for chowder, all those getting-my-hands-dirty-and-blistered chores created in me the sense of being able to accomplish something–being able to be self-sufficient and capable. Although I have no hankering to travel back to those days of the pioneers, I do admire them and recently read Bound for Idaho:The 1864 Trail Journal of Julius Merrill.

Researching for my own pioneer novel I am always on the lookout for new material.  I thought this would be yet another boring account along the lines of “Walked today.  Another long day” type of journals, Merrill’s writing and accounts were fascinating.  Really, they were.  While it may not be like reading a novel, it did manage to transport me a bit.  At least it disspelled some of those John Wayne wagon train movie images instilled by the Saturday television matinees my dad and I were so fond of watching.  Merrill’s writing proved there were humorous moments among the hardships of traveling the endless miles.

Bound for Idaho: The 1864 Trail Journal of Julius Merrillpage 44: June 14th (Fort Kearny toFort Laramie)

We saw nothing having animal life except a skunk.  He was saluted with a shot from Carey’s rifle (an old Irish blunderbuss), whereupon he looked around to Carey with an inquistive glance as if to know where the noise came, evidently caring but little for half an ounce of lead.  Revolvers in hand, we gave chase and succeeded in getting another shot but not the skunk.

Running after, and shooting at skunks, may not seem funny, yet the dignified, stiff language combined with my mental play-by-play brought a smile to my reading.  Merrill’s descriptive writing shows it wasn’t all circling up in wagons and shooting it out with hostiles.  I’ll be able to liven up my own writing by remembering to insert the fun moments along with the adventures and stress-filled daily life of living the pioneer life.

Spring Came on Forever

Spring Came on Forever by Bess Streeter Aldrich

From the book:

This is the story of two midwestern families and the starnge way in which their paths crossed. It begins in Illinois in the year 1866, and end in Nebraska in the present one [1935], severed from all that went before and all that will continue beyond a thing of incompleteness.

Aldrich blends together a portrait of the harshness of prairie pioneer life and that of an unconventional love story.  Amalia Holmsdorfer, a sweet young girl of seventeen, finds herself attracted to twenty-one year Matthias Meier, the young clerk who sold her stern German father the soap-making kettle.  Matthias also finds himself attracted to Amalia and begins secretly courting her–even though she has been pledged in marriage to a man of her father’s choosing.  Amalia and Matthias plan to run away together, yet their plans meet up with the fury of flooded roads and even though Matthias attempts to meet her in Nebraska before she marries, he again meets up with one of nature’s blockades.  Matthias and Amalia miss each other by mere hours and she marries the wrong man.

So goes the begins a love story that will span three and four generations.  Aldrich, writing in the style prevalent of her time, reveals the story in an omniscient narrator fashion.  It’s as if we are sitting in a cozy living room and listening to a tale of long ago.  While the “tell” style of yesteryear may not got over well with the current “show” method of today, I have to admit I became so involved in the plot that by the last chapter I clutched the book and actually cried.  And I am not a crier when it comes to literature.  Movies, on occasion can induce some sniffling, but rarely can a book get me to sob.

The story is mainly about Amalia; her hopes and dreams of romance are forever changed when she is forced to leave with the rest of her family and the other members of her German community to build a new settlement in Nebraska. Though she appears complacent on the outside, she keeps her inner thoughts and desires to herself.  Aldrich captures this wonderfully:

pp. 9 & 10

But thoughts are acrobats, agile and quite often untrustworthy.  So now, with impish disregard of the command, they hopped about quite easily.  They asked Amalia innocently why the nice young man wanted to know where she lived.  They suggested with subtle art the possibility that he would try to find out.  And then when the gruff person at her side questioned their activities they urged her quickly to answer, “Nein.”

My interest in pioneer started long ago with the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. There is a fascination in reading about how people created homes and towns out of the rough lands of prairie and wilderness, and through all this tremendous effort they had their own personal stories.   For the last five years I have labored on a novel about a family who follows the Oregon trail to turn off and make their claim in Idaho.  Historical novels require plenty of research to make the time period, setting, and characters come alive.  Aldrich’s Spring Came on Forever reminded me how moving pioneer stories can be.   I am also encouraged to someday write something that induces tears.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: