Book Review by Jean Ann Williams
Book Blurb: Letitia holds nothing more dear than the papers that prove she is no longer a slave. They may not cause most white folks to treat her like a human being, but at least they show she is free. She trusts in those words she cannot read—as she is beginning to trust in Davey Carson, an Irish immigrant cattleman who wants her to come west with him.
Nancy Hawkins is loathe to leave her settle life for the treacherous journey by wagon train, but she is so deeply in love with her husband and she knows she will follow him anywhere—even when the trek exacts a terrible cost.
Betsy is a Kalapuya Indian, the last remnant of a once proud tribe in the Willamette Valley in Oregon territory. She spends her time trying to impart the wisdom and ways of her people to her grandson. But she will soon have another person to care for.
As season turns to season, suspicion turns to friendship, and fear turns to courage, three spirited women will discover what it means to be truly free in a land that makes promises it cannot fulfill. This multilayered story from bestselling author Jan Kirkpatrick will grip your heart and mind as you travel on the dusty and dangerous Oregon Trail into the boundless American West. Based on a true story.
Letitia, a mature black woman, has her freedom papers, and she’s ready to make her way into a new world. To a territory called Oregon, where the place was flowing with milk and honey and plenty of land for the taking. Fiesty and unattached, Letitia was determined to get herself some of that property and she’d get there any way she could.
A Light in the Wilderness Quote: But [Letitia’d] heard that the Oregon people wanted to join the states as free. She’d be free there too, and without slavery and its uncertainty hovering like a cloud of fevered mosquitoes.
The Woman, known as Betsy, a name given to her by the missionaries, was from the Kalapuya tribe in the Oregon Territory. She and her grandson were all that was left of their family, and they had to forage for the vegetation that grew where they lived.
A Light in the Wilderness Quote: [Betsy] cherished this child even more for his being all that was left. But she would not spoil him as her mother had spoiled her brother. No, this Little Shoot would learn to do women things as well as men things so when she was gone he could survive.
Letitia and the Irishman, Davey, decide they should marry and go to Oregon as husband and wife. And once in Oregon, they would work hard to build their house, raise cattle, and a family.
A Light in the Wilderness Quote: The gift of a marriage to someone [Letitia] had chosen and who was kind enough to bring her flowers and break the wedding glass was more than she could have hoped for. There was a Bible verse about blessings being shaken down and pressed together. Today, she’d experienced it.
Nancy Hawkins, expecting her sixth child, is married to Doctor Zachariah Hawkins. They would be headed to Oregon, but this pregnancy will delay their trip one year. But things changed, and Nancy later on befriends Letitia on the Oregon Trail when no other woman would.
A Light in the Wilderness Quote: [Nancy] clucked her tongue. Another reason to leave this place. Oregon would be a refreshing change as a free state. Power without love is never just and slavery was all about raw power.
Several years after Letitia and Davey arrive in Oregon, Davey dies and one man with the power decides she is not a free black woman after all. He sets out to take everything she and Davey have worked for.
A Light in the Wilderness Quote: Then, halfway through the bidding on the Bible she’d spoken her vows upon, she prayed to find another way to see this day, some way to hold her memories rather than having them hold her in this sorrowful place. That Bible going to the Wheeler family would bring them blessings and a comfort. They outbid her because the Lord wanted them to have that blessing.
Jane Kirkpatrick did a marvelous job of taking a true account of an African American woman named Letitia Carson and filling within the facts of what could have happened to round out a great story. I highly recommend A Light in the Wilderness for a fascinating read and to learn more the amazing Letitia Carson.
To learn more about Jean Ann Williams and her own book project, please visit her blog Love Truth.