Book Review: Frontier army wives had lives of uncertainty
Book Review "Here's to the Ladies: Stories of the Frontier Army" by Carla Kelly published by Texas Christian University Press $17.50 "It was cold, the snow never stopped, the food was dull, there was a smallpox scare, some roofs caved in, some of...
"Here's to the Ladies: Stories of the Frontier Army"
by Carla Kelly
published by Texas Christian
"It was cold, the snow never stopped, the food was dull, there was a smallpox scare, some roofs caved in, some of the men died, others ran mad, no mail came through, you missed your family, and your complexion got pasty."
That's an army wife's assessment of a winter on the frontier, as told by Valley City (N.D.) author Carla Kelly.
"Here's to the Ladies" is an entertaining collection of short stories about women who traveled with the frontier armies. Fast-moving and easy to read, they're vignettes of what living conditions might have been like.
"The men had sawed and hammered up to the first snowfall, but there hadn't been time to finish the second set of barracks or the rest of the enlisted quarters. No one complained much; there wasn't any point to it."
In her foreword, Kelly explains that her inspiration comes from experiences at Fort Laramie Historic Site, Wyoming, and from her work each summer at the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site on the North Dakota-Montana border.
"I decided to write the truest story I possibly could in order to combat those movies and potboiler novels of an earlier age that contained stereotypes and blunders about the frontier army," she explains. "I would tell the truth, as much as it was in my power to do."
In one story, a soldier's wife gets "ranked" out of one abode after another -- going from merely livable to really horrendous conditions -- when someone who outranks her husband arrives at the post.
Another woman, left penniless when her husband dies on patrol, must decide whether to become an officer's mistress or marry a stranger to survive.
An army surgeon saves a Native American baby and his wife unselfishly nurses the infant as well as their own daughter.
Another officer survives the battle of Gettysburg to wonder if he'll spend the rest of his life alone, suffering from memories of the bloodshed.
A newly married couple reunite in a frontier town only to be arrested because the bride is mistaken for a prostitute.
Like military wives of every generation, the women in the stories are strong and clever, and Kelly gives readers a few happy endings.
Readers may reach Forum reviewer Gail Gabrielson at (701) 241-5536