Regional books of interest for February:
“Born of lakes and plains” by Anne F. Hyde (Norton)
Intermarriage was an important part of the early American economy. Without these marriages and the children born from them, America’s development westward would have been very different.
French trappers married Indian women, who gave them access to family circles that provided them with homes as well as furs and protection from enemies. Trading post operators took Indian wives to help with operations and ensure supplies for native customers.
In groundbreaking work, Pulitzer Prize finalist Anne F. Hyde tells the story of these intermarriages and their importance to American expansion and commerce. It focuses on five families, including the Bent family who operated Bent’s Fort in southeastern Colorado.
While the Indians accepted intermarriage, the white world disapproved of it. Trappers often had a “country wife” as well as a white wife in St. Louis, Montreal or some other civilized town. Many men felt free to abandon their Indian families when they were no longer needed.
Others shamelessly profited from their Aboriginal marriages. Henry Schoolcraft married Jane Johnston, who spoke several languages and wrote poetry. He appropriated his tribal histories in his own writings and became an expert on the Indians, even though he considered them inferior. When Jane, herself from an intermarriage, died, Schoolcraft “did their best to erase their native heritage by marrying a white woman who hated children for their racial makeup,” Hyde writes.
At first, children of mixed marriages did well in Western trade. But as more and more whites marched west, “blood mixing, long thought of as a solution, now seemed a dangerous problem,” the author says.
“Born of Lakes and Plains” is a comprehensive work that covers not only intermarriage, but also Indian removal, allotment, boarding schools, and racism.
“To get up” by Lindsey Vonn (Dey Street)
At age 9, Lindsey Vonn told her father that she wanted to compete in the 2002 Olympics. Instead of being amused, he said, “Okay. So that’s what you’ll have to do.
He put together an incredible training and ski racing program that Vonn followed, and she achieved her goal. In fact, she participated in three Olympic Games. She won a medal, but was unspectacular. It was at the World Cup that she played, setting record after record. Fearless (she claims her brain doesn’t register fear), aggressive and beautiful, she became the world’s most famous skier and most decorated skier of all time.
In “Rise,” Vonn recounts how she got there, through dedication and hard work. These trophies have a cost. Vonn sacrificed most of his teenage years to training, never hanging out with friends or making close friends. The family sold their home and moved to Vail. Vonn was home-schooled so she could compete in ski races around the world. She suffered from severe depression. And then there were all those physical injuries that forced her to retire in 2019.
She writes that she heard two coaches dismiss her potential, a conversation that devastated her but also motivated her to excel. And she talks about sexism in skiing. His father was his first coach. Her husband took her place. When Vonn filed for divorce, a Chicago newspaper asked, “Can Lindsey be successful without a man by her side?” “No one would ever ask such a question about a man,” she wrote.
“Rise” is strictly about Vonn and skiing. (Tiger Woods isn’t mentioned once.) If you’re looking for intimate details, check out the tabloids.
“The Prophet’s Wife” by Libbie Grant (William Morrow)
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Emma Hale Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, is described as a woman of courage, kindness, and unconditional faith.
But was she? Libbie Grant challenges many assumptions about Emma Smith in ‘The Prophet’s Wife’. This beautifully written novel portrays Emma not as a religious icon but as a woman of flesh and blood, who has doubts about her husband.
Emma married Joseph Smith in part because of her fear of becoming single. Did she love him? Grant, who is a member of the LDS Church, isn’t sure. Although she helped her husband translate the Book of Mormon, Emma was never allowed to see the sacred plates. She believed in the church her husband had founded and faithfully followed him as his flock moved from place to place.
Yet in Grant’s account, Emma is unsure that Joseph’s proclamations come from God. Emma denies polygamy and when she discovers that it is practiced, she asks her husband to renounce it. Heartbroken, Emma discovers that he has secretly married her best friend, Eliza Snow.
Grant’s portrayal of Emma and her role in the early church is superb. But the book has its flaws. The idea that Emma is secretly in love with her husband’s brother is invented. And the author changes events and places to fit his story. “The Prophet’s Wife” is nonetheless a top-notch historical novel that brings to life a woman generally considered a stark icon.
“Something Like Betrayal” by William Sonn (Sunbury Press)
On February 15, 1944, PFC Dale Maple, a member of the army’s misfit 620th Engineer General Service Co., deserted his unit at Camp Hale and headed to Mexico with two Germans from a POW camp next to. Their goal was to travel to South America and then to Germany. They have barely arrived in Mexico. Maple was tried for sedition and sentenced to hang.
The disgruntled, Germany-loving American claimed he was one of 34 members of the 620th who planned an uprising. In fact, he expected soldiers from other unsuitable units (made up mostly of men unjustly deemed pro-Nazis) to join them. The men protested the way they were treated: malnourished, working in menial jobs, brutalized by Camp Hale officers and soldiers, and barred from joining combat units.
In his highly researched non-fiction “Something like Treason”, William Sonn recounts the story of the 620th and the trials of five men accused of planning the uprising. Despite severe sentences, they were released after the end of the war. Sonn follows their post-war years.
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