Bethany and Wade Cameron begin their journey by wagon from Missouri to the Texas Panhandle on their wedding day. They take with them, or acquire along the way, a few necessary items: a milk cow, a horse, seeds, curtains, a rag rug, and a rosebush cutting from the rosebush in Bethany’s parents’ front yard. When they reach their homestead in Texas, they will have no near neighbors, no railroad nearby to bring in supplies or take crops to market, and no extra resources other than their own faith, courage, and stick-to-it-tiveness. Bethany is not even sure of Wade’s love for her; he was originally pledged to marry another girl who jilted him, and he only turned to Bethany when she rashly promised to go with him anywhere.
One reviewer on Amazon said of this book: “I started reading this book and thought it was going to start off slow. It wasn’t slow just in the beginning… I think it was a horrible pointless book.” I disagree, but if you’re looking for a modern thriller or romance, you will be as disappointed as the Amazon reviewer was. Bethany’s and Wade’s story unfolds slowly; their love and commitment grow over time. And the story is as much about their love affair with homesteading and with the land as it is about their marriage and their love for each other.
Two things impressed me. I was reminded of the old song from the musical Oklahoma:
One of the major themes of the book is the inevitability of change, and the conflict between the ranchers and the new farming homesteaders. Wade and Bethany are determined to make a go of farming in the new lands that the state of Texas is selling to homesteaders. Their neighbors and friends are mostly cowboys and ranchers who are kind and helpful to the new couple but not at all sympathetic to the fences and the plows that are breaking up the open range lands.
The other thing I noticed was the pattern of Bethany’s and Wade’s marriage. The story takes place in the late 1880’s; the book was published in 1950. The Camerons’ relationship displays the customs and expectations of both time periods. Wade is the strong, silent type. He makes the decisions and expects Bethany to agree with him. Bethany also expects things to be this way, although there is a scene in which she wants him to consult her about a major financial decision, but realizes that he can’t show that kind of “weakness” in front of other people. He later admits that he should have asked her about the decision, “that it was cowardly not to have asked her . . . But I just—well, I just couldn’t tell him—” And Bethany ends up glad that Wade didn’t embarrass himself and “come trailing in to ask [her]”.
It’s a different kind of marriage relationship than very many people would try nowadays. But perhaps our lack of trust in one another, and our need to always have everything “equal” and “fair” with all decisions being joint decisions, 50/50, creates its own set of problems and incongruities.
Louella Grace Erdman was a Texas writer who penned a number of books for adults and for children, mostly set in the Texas Panhandle where she lived the majority of her life. Ms. Erdman was a teacher of creative writing at West Texas State College, and she wrote about fifteen or more novels about pioneer and frontier life in Texas and elsewhere and a couple of volumes of memoir. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for more of Ms. Erdman’s books.
Her books include:
Tales of the Texas Panhandle series. The Pierce family–father, mother and five children—are homesteaders in the Texas Panhandle during the late 1800’s. For middle graders and young adults.
The Wind Blows Free
The Wide Horizon
The Good Land
Other books for adults and teens:
Separate Star. A young schoolteacher’s first year of teaching.
Fair Is the Morning Connie a young school teacher moves the to rural town of Hickory Ridge to write a thesis on rural schools. The job soon proves to be a greater challenge than she had first imagined.
Lonely Passage. Coming of age story about a young girl growing up in a family of strong women.
Many a Voyage. Fiction about Kansas senator, later territorial governor of New Mexico, Edmund G. Ross through the eyes of his wife.
My Sky Is Blue.
The Far Journey. A young woman is reluctant to join her husband, Edward, on the Texas frontier, but eventually she does as they make a life together.
Room to Grow. French immigrants move to the Texas Panhandle from New Orleans.
Another Spring. Civil War era romance about families displaced by Order Number Eleven at the end of the Civil War.
A Bluebird Will Do. “Orphaned in San Francisco during gold rush days, a sixteen-year-old girl travels east by way of the Isthmus of Panama to seek out relatives in New Orleans.”
Save Weeping for the Night.. A fictional account of the life of Bettie Shelby, wife of the Confederate hero, General Jo Shelby.
Three at the Wedding. The wedding of Meredith Dunlap and Rodney Carlyle in the town of Linston, Texas shortly after World War II changes the lives of three other women in various ways.
The Years of the Locust.. The life and influence of an eighty year old farmer, Dade Kenzie, after his death in rural Missouri.
Life was Simpler Then. “Memories of the author’s Missouri farm childhood, within the framework of the four seasons.
A Time to Write.. Writing memoir.