In the early 1880s my father brought his family from Missouri down into the wild country of Arkansas that was just beginning to settle up. The Kansas City and Memphis [Railway] was just being graded through, and trains were running only as far as the little sawmill town of Sedgwick, so there we stopped to wait until the road was completed into the prairie country near Jonesboro, where my father expected to buy a home. Within a week he took pneumonia and three days later died, leaving my mother and six children stranded and helpless in a strange country.—Trials of the Earth by Mary Mann Hamilton (Little, Brown, 2016, p. 3)
- Setting: Arkansas and Mississippi, 1880s on
- Circumstances: The true story of a pioneer woman
- Genre: autobiography
- Something to know: Hamilton wrote her book to enter a publishing contest in the 1930s. Although she didn't win, she kept the manuscript, which was discovered and published by the University of Mississippi Press in the 1990s. The writing contest that inspired Hamilton was sponsored by Little, Brown, which recently acquired the rights to the book that got away and republished it last month, giving this amazing story a wider audience.
- Thoughts: I'm still reading, but I can tell you that Hamilton holds nothing back--the brutal daily workload, the rough life of a logging camp, the violence of the backwoods, and the constant dangers. Hamilton's incredible physical and mental strength shine through this autobiography, though she is unassuming as she tells her story. Despite the rigors of pioneering life, she loved her children, admired the beauty of the natural world, and made deep friendships.
- Recommendations: This is an important and fascinating firsthand account of the waning pioneer days told from a woman's viewpoint and set in a region few Americans associate with homesteading. If you like true stories, autobiography, and/or history revealed from a personal perspective, you must add Mary Mann Hamilton's Trials of the Earth to your list.