AN ORDINARY WOMAN by Cecelia Holland


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Holland returns to California (Railroad Schemes, 1997, etc.) for her 24th historical, a dramatized biography of Nancy Kelsey, the first American woman to cross the wilderness of the Great Western Desert and Rockies, afterward settling in California with her husband Ben and raising a large family. Accompanied entirely by men and carrying an infant in her arms, Kelsey trekked over the Sierra Nevada, facing down hostile Indians (her seven-year-old daughter was scalped and killed) and surviving the brutalities of land and weather. When Kelsey arrived in California, the Spanish dons realized that a virtual takeover by easterners was a foregone conclusion. Kelsey’s husband, in none-too-good health, was often laid low, but at last he sprang back to work. Kelsey herself hefted pounds of gold at Sutter’s Fort on the American River, and when California seceded from Mexico, she rode in the Bear Flag Rebellion. This was clearly a woman of awesome endurance; when her husband died, after giving his name to many California trails, hamlets, and canyons, she went north to the wilderness area of the San Joaquin Valley, built a new homestead, and lived to old age. Holland, basing her story on journals of the period, writes in her usual non-nonsense, straight-ahead style that is more intent on covering the distance than on smelling the wind (or the flowers).

Pub Date: April 19th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-86528-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Forge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999


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