I don't know about you, but my television binge has lately revolved around the Dutton family - as in the "Yellowstone" Duttons. We're all in on "1883" right now and I can't stop thinking about it. Perhaps because it is told in part via Elsa Dutton's voiceover. I feel as if she is reading her journal as she and her family make their way north and west through Texas and Kansas and into Montana Territory. It also could be because she's about as audacious as they come. Don't get me wrong; I love every character in this saga. It's just that Elsa is fierce. Sometimes crazy unpredictable fierce, but that's a Dutton trait, so I can forgive it. They will stand to their last breath against anything and anyone who crosses them.
There are many such fierce, wild-willed women in western fiction; I love to write them and I love to read about them. These are five books I absolutely adore, and I think you will, too.
TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis. This book is dead serious and dead funny all at the same time. Young Mattie Ross hires cynical, drunk Rooster Cogburn to find the men who killed her father. And she's not stopping, nor letting him take a breather, until vengeance is done. Unforgettable.
THE COMANCHE KID by James Robert Daniels. This book took my breath away. The narrator, Jane, witnesses the murder of her family and kidnapping of her younger sister during a Comanche raid. To survive, she dons her brother's clothes and takes to the wilds to find her sister and avenge her family's deaths. Soon she finds herself hired on to a cattle drive, and during the trek, we experience the full wrath and beauty of all the peoples of the west, from the cowboys to the Buffalo soldiers to the Comanches themselves. It's an intense novel, and doesn't shirk at the atrocities committed on all sides nor burnish the soul-destroying obsession with vengeance - and yet it is still a bighearted book about courage and forgiveness.
BUFFALO CALF ROAD WOMAN by Rosemary Agonito and Joseph Agonito. Based on true events. Buffalo Calf Road Woman is a Cheyenne as famous for joining that Battle of the Little Bighorn as she is for saving her brother in the Battle of the Rosebud, when she galloped into the melee to pull her brother onto her horse and rescue him from a certain death. Throughout, we are witness to the devastation wrought during the pioneer migration west, and marvel at Buffalo Calf Road Woman's utter bravery. The opening lines are some of the most powerful I have ever read: "The end of the world began that day. Not slowly or quietly, not piece by piece or by degrees, but as a calamity that brings another and another and another."
HERESY by Melissa Lenhardt. This novel is also based on true events, this time about a gang of female outlaws in 1870s Colorado. The narrator is a 92-year-old ex-slave, interviewed in 1936 for the WPA, and she is not at all interested in telling of her slave experience. She wants to talk about later days, when she was an outlaw and the power she had in choosing her own destiny. The novel is a mix of diaries, fiction, and newspaper articles, which is a refreshingly different way to tell a story - and suits this one and its strong-willed women to a tee.
LAST WOMAN STANDING by Thelma Adams. Tombstone, the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp - and Josephine Marcus, the last woman standing at the end of the gun battle. Impetuous and headstrong, Josephine leaves her family home in San Francisco to marry lawman Johnny Behan. But it's Wyatt Earp who steals her heart and sparks a bitter rivalry. I love Josephine in this novel - she leaps off the page, full of life and leaping before she looks. A perfect mix of western, romance, and adventure.
Let me know in the comments your recommendations!
Next post: I couldn't stop at five...next week brings five more audacious women of the west.
She has hung her hat in California, Colorado, and currently the Pacific Northwest. The rain does not deter her research whether it be train timetables from 1905 or the best way to catch a loose horse.
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