Fictional diary entries tell the story of two couples who move west to forge new lives during the Reconstruction Era.
Nathan Carter and Rebecca Martin are living in Ohio when the Civil War erupts. Nathan, 13, is left in charge of his father’s store in Eaton when his dad and brothers leave to fight the secessionists. But Nathan dreams of becoming a farmer. Rebecca, 12, is being raised as a proper young lady, as her mother prods her to consider well-to-do suitors. But she has always been smitten with Nathan, whom she sees at the store periodically. He returns her affection and manages to win over her family and secure her hand in marriage. When he announces his intention to move out West with his beloved to farm, Rebecca’s mother is distraught. But Rebecca seems unconcerned about her parent’s worries about “savages.” The couple travel to Independence, Missouri, and join a wagon train, where they meet an older pair, Carl and Hannah Taylor. This is where the story really hits its stride. The journey west is challenging, but reaching their destination, a homestead in Kansas, fails to bring any solace to Rebecca—especially once she realizes she will be living in a house made of sod because there aren’t enough trees in the area to construct a cabin. This is perhaps the least of the trials that the couples will endure. Grief remains a constant throughout their lives. In Kansas-based author Zachgo’s (The Rocking Horse, 2011) historical novel, the prose style differs with every character. For example, Rebecca’s writing is genteel while Carl’s and Hannah’s offerings are less refined. Rebecca’s entries in the beginning of the work are much shorter than Nathan’s and she gets more development through his chronicles than her own. But when the action moves to the prairie, her character gains dimension and her struggles deftly illustrate the loneliness and dangers of life there. At times, these strong passages are wrenching to read. The addition of the Taylors further expands the absorbing story.
Readers who persevere through the sparse beginning will progress to a more detailed and often heart-rending tale of pioneers homesteading in Kansas after the Civil War.