April 20, 2009

Children of the West

by DiAnn Mills

As a young girl, I used to daydream about life in the Old West. The thought of spending my hours like those from Little House on the Prairie seemed idyllic—even romantic. So while looking through a stack of research books at a local book store, I found the book Children of the West – Family Life on the Frontier by Cathy Luchetti and snatched it up. The photographs of smiling children on the cover captured my attention, and I eagerly anticipated each page.

The photographs will melt your heart. The chapter topics will interest you, and the information may cause you to weep. All of it will bring authenticity to your writing and an understanding that children are the lifeblood to any culture. They are our hope and the future. In the photographs, you will see excitement, fear, pain, and untiring enthusiasm. Every photograph shows our history through the eyes of children, and we are their legacy.

My thoughts were to pick out the most rewarding section of the book and report it to you. But that goal proved impossible. Realization set me down a new path. I’m not a promoter of Cliff Notes because it seems to me that the reader misses the journey. To know a book is to digest every word and experience it through the writer’s passion for the topic. Children of the West is no exception.

“I remember walking just ahead of that halted wagon, venturing out alone to gaze across that expanse of country. I recall so vividly the feeling of wonderment and perplexity at the bigness of the world and how I so eagerly struggled to stretch my childhood experience and imagination to comprehend some of its meaning and its promise.” Mary Ronan

I’m not sure where your interest lies when considering the Old West—whether it be the mothers who bore one child after another, or the child who experienced life amidst the dangers of an untamed country and clung to the hope of surviving disease. I read about women who feared miscarriage and those who feared how they’d feed and clothe one more baby.

Close-knit families spread across the mountains and prairies west of the Mississippi, but the bonds of love did not make them immune to poverty, death, and bad decisions. A man who lost his wife and was left with ten children to rear could grow bitter. A widow left with mouths to feed might have to resort to sad means to survive. Children learned to work and valued it. Yet how many times have we read about children forced into labor and denied an education?

Holidays and celebrations were an opportunity for young and old to laugh and enjoy family and community relationships. Christianity exploded into every facet of the pioneer family, and with the Bible in the home, children learned how to read and established faith and morals. Schools dotted the countryside and towns, keeping the children busy except during harvest time and when needed at home. And what about the other ethnic families that helped grow our country? Native Americans, African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American all brought cultural diversity into the Old West.

The children grew strong and survived. They built towns and worked farms. They became business owners, doctors, lawyers, and politicians. They became parents and worked to instill the values their parents had taught them. Those are the children of the Old West. Those are the heroes and heroines of our novels—real people, real lives, and a real heritage.

DiAnn Mills



Patty Wysong said...

I'll be checking our library for that book--it looks wonderful! Thank you for posting about it!

Leigh said...

Wow, that sounds like an interesting book - I could spend hours looking at old photos that tell so many stories. I might have to check for it at our library for curiosity's sake, even though I'm not writing about the West!

G.R.I.T.S. said...

As A Kid, I've always loved the Old West, and the South...I'll be looking for this book!

Vickie McDonough said...

Sounds like a great book. I'm going to check it out.

I remember my dad telling me that sometimes all he had to eat for lunch was an onion sandwich--and he liked it. Bread, butter, and a slice of onion. What do you think one of our kids would say if that's all they got for lunch? :0/

Allison said...

This looks like a very interesting book. I grew up wishing I could live the life of the Ingalls! (ok, still do!)...I will definitely look for this book.