You may have noticed I tend to review books that are not recent publications or current best sellers as I think you will hear about them from many other sources. I try to go back and find a few gems that may have slipped your attention. These is My Words (1998) by Nancy Turner is still a worthy read that I highly recommend if you like historical fiction, especially with reference to Arizona.
The subtitle of the book is The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prime, 1881-1901. Arizona Territories. Based on the actual diaries of the author’s grandmother, it is rich in authentic details and etched with striking character portraits of very different pioneer families. It is also the story of a powerful, enduring love between Sarah and the dashing cavalry officer, Captain Jack Elliot.
In the summer of 1881, Sarah’s family left the Northwest Territory to follow her father’s dream to ranch in San Angelo, Texas. Driving a herd of cattle across the country, “We drifted the herd towards the town of Prescott and down the mountain through the black canyon then out across the big Salt River Valley … there is a sign at Hayden’s Ferry saying it is now a town called Tempe, but it is just two adobe buildings and some fence and they got a mighty nerve to call that little old cow corral a town. It was hotter than I ever knew it could be. Out across the desert to the Gila River and no water for all them long miles.”
Within the first 20 pages, at a tender age, Sarah kills several Comanche who assaulted her sister and loses a brother to a snake bite. When they reach their destination in Texas and the father dies suddenly, Sarah’s mother and brothers decide to return to the Arizona Territory to settle. As the group moves eastward, they are under the guard of soldiers charged with protecting settlers from Indians and we meet the commanding officer Captain Jack.
Jack is strong and domineering as is Sarah and their love proves as difficult as their physical journey. For starters, their diversified wagon train, the author says, includes Chinamen, Coloreds, and Mormons. Sarah writes, “Christmas Eve, 1881. Tormented by Indians most of the day. Many soldiers are dead and some of the wagon folks. I have no more feelings. I keep my rifle loaded and my eyes on the horizon.”
Although Sarah remains “quaintly unsophisticated” throughout her life, her thirst for education fuels much of the plot. Early evidence of this is when she is reluctant to part with her box of books in trade for horses they desperately need. She finally consents to one book for one horse, but is very selective in which book she will relinquish.
Three-hundred and eighty some pages later, we have spanned an entire lifetime with Sarah and Captain Jack, chock full of romping adventures and disasters, as well as some wondrous discoveries, not to mention exquisite descriptions of Arizona’s early landscape.
A book worth reading and, in this case, perhaps for a second time.
Reviewer Violetta Armour is a resident of Sun Lakes from Ahwatukee where she owned a bookstore, Pages, in the early ’90s. She is the author of four novels, including the award-winning I’ll Always Be With You, a book club favorite. Her books are available at the Chandler and Phoenix libraries and on Amazon. She also reviews books on her blog at www.serendipity-reflections.blogspot.com.