n 1844, two years before the Donner Party, the Stevens-Murphy company left Missouri to be the first wagons into California through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Mostly Irish Catholics, the party sought religious freedom and education in the mission-dominated land and enjoyed a safe journey–until October, when a heavy snowstorm forced difficult decisions. The first of many for young Mary Sullivan, newlywed Sarah Montgomery, the widow Ellen Murphy, and her pregnant sister-in-law Maolisa.
When the party separates in three directions, each risks losing those they loved and faces the prospect of learning that adversity can destroy or redefine. Two women and four men go overland around Lake Tahoe, three men stay to guard the heaviest wagons–and the rest of the party, including eight women and seventeen children, huddle in a makeshift cabin at the headwaters of the Yuba River waiting for rescue . . . or their deaths.
Award-winning author Jane Kirkpatrick plunges you deep into a landscape of challenge where fear and courage go hand in hand for a story of friendship, family, and hope that will remind you of what truly matters in times of trial.
So, this book was one I chose for my younger sister. Since she’s writing a book on a figure from the wagon trail days, I figured this would make a good research tool.
I read it with mixed feelings. I enjoyed it — the writing style was wonderfully engaging, the storyline was clear, and the research was well done. Little known facts about the Stephens-Murphy party were revealed and the facts included about the era were incorporated in a way to keep the story interesting. Being that this is an account based on a true story, I really enjoyed it. The historical value and the amount of history I was able to refresh myself on was pretty much amazing.
I was annoyed at the lack of consistency the accents were used. Irish characters only occasionally had an accent . . . but this could easily be something I noticed only because I’m an editor and I look for it in the manuscripts I go through.
The plotline was kept moving forward, and I was always wondering what would happen next. The story was told from several different perspectives, and I was concerned about being able to keep it all straight, but somehow Jane Kirkpatrick wrote in such a way so that I quickly knew and recognized all the names and characters.
That being said, the amount of feminism in this story was appalling to me. I am most definitely not a feminist, by any stretch of the word, as is no surprise to those who read this blog. I, quite honestly, found several of the attitudes the people were written as having as being . . . well . . . repungant. And I’m not sure the attitudes would have been true to the history of these women. I kinda feel like a grave dis-justice was done to these women, actually, and because of that my rating went down.
First, I was surprised by the attitude of the men towards the women. Historically, the attitude would have been one of respect and honour — even in the midst of a journey of several hundred miles in the middle winter. The men seemed to be a bit calloused, a bit self-centered, and a whole lot of egotistical, all mixed up in one. The husbands pretty much dictated to their wives, and they had absolutely no say in the matter. I’m pretty sure that this is not how marriage works — and I’m almost positive that these historical figures wouldn’t have treated their wives in such a manner. There were several times when the men would make sure the animals were okay before their wives and children, several times when information was brusquely denied, and at least once it was mentioned that the husband was staying behind to guard the valuable silks and satins and would see his wife in the springtime.
At the same time, the ladies attitudes were poor reflections of womanhood and all that makes ladies genteel and feminine. They seemed to complain about everything, whine that they weren’t included with the men, and foolhardy enough to push their way to the front of dangerous passes and “prove” themselves. Again, women historically and biblically would have “reverenced their husbands” and would have been looking for ways to serve them. The attitudes were one of victims, when they were most certainly not victims of anything but their own poor thoughts. It was mentioned several times that “of course he would inquire about the horse before me, since the horse is worth more anyways.” It was complained about that the men never helped with anything — yet when help was offered it was turned down and ignored. When information was given, it was argued about and fought over. So it’s no wonder that the men seemed to turn toward away from their wives. Biblically, it’s better for a husband to live on a rooftop than with a brawling woman.
I’m nearly positive that the woman of yesteryear would have been more than happy to accept their husbands help and would have been understanding enough to realize that the concern for the horses and livestock and animals and guns and everything else would have been for their benefit. If the livestock is gone, what is there to eat? If the horses and oxen give out, what happens to the wagons and possessions? It is honestly a case of men being more logical minded, and women being more emotional . . . as happens to be the case in every single relationship I have with a guy, be it friend, brother, or father.
I found it annoying that as the characters fought their way through the book, they couldn’t see the real issue. That the men are offering to help, the women are turning them down, the men, of course, aren’t going to continue to offer because their help was rejected anyways, and so the women are left griping about the amount of work they have to do. Which, in turn, makes the men appear to be rather more than a bit disgruntled.
I can think of one example in a brother/sister relationship where the brother comes to help his sister set her shoulder after it popped out of socket. She rejected his help, didn’t notice she had hurt him, and after he had the shoulder in, she was upset that he left to tend the horses.
Anyways, that is my long two cents worth. I’m not sure if the historical elements outweigh the feminism or not . . . and I don’t know yet if any of my younger siblings will be reading this one. It *might* be a good choice to let my next-younger-sister read, who is 17, and see how many of these elements she can see in the book. It would be good for that, simply because there is no other content in it to worry about :D
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review. I was not obligated to enjoy the book, merely to give my honest opinion.
I am a 23 year old young lady who is redeemed and saved from my sin only by the grace of God. A bibliophile at heart with a love of history who desires to see the Word of God practically applied to all aspects of our daily lives -- in our homes, in the grocery store, in the political realm. I strive to put my jumbled, chaotic thoughts down onto paper -- reducing them into black and white rows, letters, sentences. Into some semblance of sanity. And I share them here with all of you, where I can challenge you, make you think, and cause you to ask questions. I am the oldest of eleven children living the country life in the deep south.