Book Review: Wilderness Fever

A fascinating memoir, Wilderness Fever: A Family’s Adventures Homesteading in Early Jackson Hole, 1914-1921, written by Linda Preston McKinstry with Harold Cole McKinstry, shows a way of life that’s hard to imagine in this modern age. Homesteading accounts normally entail life in the 1800’s, but the McKinstry’s story shows the toughness and determination of early 20th century settlers in the untamed Wyoming wilderness.

Linda and Harold (called Mac) were not typical homesteaders. They both had been professional people: Linda, from Massachusetts, taught home economics in Washington D.C. and Mac, from North Dakota, worked for The U.S. Department of Agriculture, also in Washington D.C. They married and set out in 1915 to find adventure in the wilds of Wyoming. Unlike many hardscrabble homesteaders, they arrived with the financial means to obtain the supplies and equipment needed to start a life in a place devoid of almost all creature comforts.

Having the means to buy necessities helped establish their homestead, but what made their venture a reality was their unrelenting, grueling hard work. The area is known for its long freezing winters. Cooking with a wood-burning stove may have been a luxury compared to cooking over an open fire, but keeping the stove supplied with wood for both cooking and warmth was a never-ending job. In the early days, their meat consisted of what Mac could hunt. Although they could purchase groceries from the nearest town, it was many miles away and it took an entire day to get there, if the roads and weather even allowed travel. A garden produced much of what they consumed. Linda canned meat and vegetables to have when fresh was unavailable. The endless list of chores involved cutting blocks of ice to keep food fresh, caring for stock, milking a cow for milk and butter, raising chickens, always striving for a variety of food to keep the family healthy. Along the way, three children were born, which necessitated long trips into town for the births. In those days it was believed women needed at least ten days of bed rest after giving birth.

Neighbors helped neighbors, and I was surprised at the amount of travel back and forth over many miles on horseback or wagon. Because of the great distances between homesteads, over-night stays were often necessary. Linda routinely had guests for meals, especially mid-day, since travelers had no other place to eat.

Mac spent much of his time building his ranch and increasing his stock. His many talents and ingenuity helped make his ranch profitable. He was also in high demand as a licensed surveyor, both for the government and for ranchers. They were in a financial position to hire help for Linda so that Mac could be away, sometimes for several days at a time, either surveying or helping a fellow rancher.

Through it all, they found strength in each other and in the quietness and beauty of their wild surroundings at the foot of the Tetons.

The memoir, gleaned from their journals, is told by both Linda and Mac initially, but the last several chapters are in Linda’s voice, taken from letters mailed to her mother and sister. The book’s format has sidebars with dates, providing interesting footnotes and additional information. Photographs also bring the story to life. Wilderness Fever is an unusual, outstanding read. I highly recommend this account of an enterprising couple determined to find their own way in the wilds of Wyoming.

Book Review: Home to Wyoming

Harlan Hague’s novel, Home to Wyoming, continues Caleb and Mei Lin’s story as told in A Place for Mei Lin. The couple has moved from Idaho’s Stanley Basin gold mining country to wide open Wyoming ranch country, near Jackson Hole and the magnificent Teton mountain range. But not all is left behind. Old grudges have a way of cropping up at unexpected times.

The turn of the twentieth century brought hardships to those brave enough to endure the harsh conditions of the New West, especially Wyoming’s notorious severe winters. Caleb and Mei Lin forge ahead, carving out a future in cattle ranching.

The author offers vivid descriptions of the rugged country and the struggles early settlers faced. For ranchers to endure the death of their cattle due to relentless freezing conditions is heartbreaking, let alone financially devastating. It takes a tough constitution and determination to make a living under these harsh conditions.

Caleb and Mei Lin’s strong love carries them through the rough times, through sickness, even death. Caleb is quick to defend Mei Lin, a Chinese immigrant, against those who rail against her.

The two novels, A Place for Mei Lin and Home to Wyoming stand alone, but I’m glad that I happened to read them in the order they were written. Nevertheless, in the second book the author does a good job of bringing the reader up-to-date as a natural part of the story.

Home to Wyoming is a fun, absorbing read.

To learn more about the author, visit

Dearest Darling by Andrea Downing

dearestdarlingWhen Emily Darling intentionally reads a letter left on her doorstep, but addressed to Ethel Darton, it becomes more than a mistake in postal service. It becomes a chance of escape from her over-bearing brother. The letter, starting with the greeting “Dearest Darling” captivates her heart and hopes. What kind of man would write such an endearing and tender letter? He is obviously in need of companionship, living in the wilds of Wyoming, and is making travel arrangements for his mail-order bride. But wait, there’s more: a train ticket to Cheyenne with instructions to take a stagecoach to Jackson Hole where he will meet her.

From the letter she learns these two have never met, but that Ethel Darton has sent a picture of herself in an earlier letter.

When Daniel Saunders meets the stagecoach on the appointed day, he meets an imposter, someone who has taken advantage of a free train ticket. He’s outraged. But what is he going to do? He can’t leave her in town, alone, with no means of supporting herself. He needs time to sort this out.

A novella, Dearest Darling is a delightful read, cleverly paced with seemingly insurmountable complications, and realistic, convincing dialog. Details of Wyoming ranch land enhance the story, giving the reader an exciting view of yesteryear’s west.

To learn more about the author, visit

Book Review: No Escape: The Sweetwater Tragedy

no-escape-coverWhen Susan Cameron arrives in Sweetwater Valley, Wyoming, she is full of hope for her new life. At last, she will answer to no one but herself–she is free to pursue her dream of owning her own land and making her own choices. She gets off to a rocky start, but undaunted, doggedly follows her plan to file for her own section of land. Along the way, she meets Michael O’Brien who shows a romantic interest in her. Susan, however, meets Michael’s every effort with frosty response. This is her time to prove herself and nothing, no one, will deter her.

Early on, Susan has the good fortune to meet her generous and helpful neighboring homesteaders, Ella and her husband Jim. Susan soon learns that cattlemen are actively making life miserable for homesteaders. The free grazing land cattlemen have used for years is being “ruined” by homesteaders’ houses, fences and crops, tying up precious water resources. The lawlessness and tragedy that follow is a bleak part of western history.

This excellent historical novel, No Escape: The Sweetwater Tragedy, by Jean Henry Mead, is based on an actual 1889 Wyoming incident involving the vigilante hangings of Ellen “Ella” Watson-Averell and her husband, James. The homesteaders were falsely accused of running a “brawdy” house” in exchange for rustled cattle. To carry the story, the author has drawn a fictitious character, a composite of thousands of single women who attempted to prove up on homesteads, some successfully, some not.

Versatile author Jean Henry Mead’s impeccable research is evident in this gripping fast-paced tale.

No Escape: The Sweetwater Tragedy by Jean Henry Mead is available in e-book and print formats.