In this historical novel, a homesteading family learns to deal with the best and worst of man and nature, while holding steadfast in a promise to always respect the land.
John William Schultz and his cousin Gus move their families from Iowa to northeastern Colorado to settle farm land offered in the 1909 Extended Homestead Act. On their first day, they meet the “Old-Timer,” who is part Cheyenne Indian and part Scottish— a mystic and spiritual guide who will figure prominently in the lives of John William’s family.
The author covers a lot of ground – from 1909 to 1984 – focusing mostly on two of John William’s children, Will, and Hank. The brothers have a sibling rivalry of biblical proportions, right down to a stolen birthright. Living in Will’s shadow, Hank always feels slighted by his family but takes solace in his popularity with the ladies. When Will gets the girl Hank desires, Hank’s enmity know no bounds.
The author is at her best when describing events based on facts: the dust storms, a grasshopper invasion, the Great Depression. She falls short, however, in some of the fictional elements. Although the story is certainly readable, the characters tend to be either saints or sinners. Tension-filled moments are either quickly resolved or fizzle out. One minor example: when Will’s brakes go out on a hill, what might have spelled disaster for the family is taken care of with a dramatic shrug. “…the car slowed to a crawl, then stopped completely, still on the road.” Then there’s the author’s odd narrative intrusions: “Was this an accident or murder? As the story unfolds, perhaps you will find the answer.”
While such writing issues often impact reader enjoyment, the author shows how environmental actions yesterday and today will affect tomorrow. Those seeking to know more about the historical impact of mistreating Mother Nature need look no further than this story of stalwart homesteaders and their attempt to tame the land.