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“I write to shine a light on an otherwise dim or even pitch-black corner, to provide relief for myself and others.”  Words taped to the desk of the memoirist, Laura Munson, author of This Is Not the Story You Think It Is – a Season of Unlikely Happiness (2011).

Housewife and mother, she had managed to write fourteen novels that failed to attract the notice of publishers. Yet, she continued honing her skills until the sea-change called for a different tack.

Stung by an unforeseen marital crisis, Laura reaches for her journal and writes over a five-month period—jottings that later become raw material for a memoir. Her readers she calls “gentle friends.”

Backstories of her twenty-year marriage, their two children, and life in a farmhouse in a Montana glacial valley open the memoir. In the writerly process, Munson explores her own darkness, especially her nasty inner critic, “Sheila, her twin sister.”

Graced by grandmothers practiced in creating beauty in their homes, Laura does similarly in her vegetable and flower gardens: her response to her children’s needs and her mate’s identity crisis, as provider, triggered by a failed business venture.

Humor and honesty, the hallmarks of successful memoirs, are found in this one.

This Is Not the Story You Think It Is – a Season of Unlikely Happiness was listed on the New York Times Best Sellers List, and was promoted by Oprah and the Today Show.  With its writing, Laura Munson changed.

The year was 1786, the setting, Boston’s Bunch of Grapes tavern where former officers from the War of Independence gathered. Among them was the Reverend Manasseh Cutler, with doctorates in medicine, law, and divinity. Such opens David McCullough’s historical novel, The Pioneers—The Heroic Story Of The Settlers Who Brought The American Ideal West (2020).

Besides writing of notables in American history, McCullough wanted to present patriots, unknown to history, whose critical influence directed its development. One of these was the Reverend Manasseh Cutler (1742-1823), First Congregationalist pastor in Ipswich Hamlet, Massachusetts. His vision for the Northwest Territory (north and west of the Ohio River) included the prohibition of slavery, the freedom of religion, and state-funded public education, all of which occurred, despite bitter disputes in the Capitol.

McCullough’s discovery of the archives at Marietta College, located in Marietta, Ohio—the first settlement of the pioneers—gave him access to the diaries and letters of Manasseh Cutler and four other families, together with newspapers, pamphlets, and other books. All of which the author wove into a compelling story of ingenuity and daunting hardships: the virgin terrain to clear for log cabins and farms, the extremes of weather, diseases and accidents, clashes with Chief Pike of the Seminoles, the British threat during the War of 1812, and the lack of funds, also in the country, as a whole.

Despite such hardships, the settlers, many from Puritan backgrounds, rarely gave up. Just got up the next morning and saw what was left and started over.

Knowledge of their perseverance attracted thousands of American and European settlers wanting to experience this world of rich soils with their bountiful produce. Live was different here.

David McCullough, now in his mid-eighties, keeps alive the innate goodness of America’s foundation and development in his historical novels and reminds us to be grateful for our heritage.

My interest in the Native American presence in the nineteenth-century state of Missouri led to the heartbreaking read, The Ioway in Missouri by Greg Olson, the Curator of Exhibits at the Missouri State Archives: heartbreaking because of the spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical dissolution of the Ioway tribe, between 1800 to 1837. 

Central to this dissolution was the Supreme Court’s 1827 adoption of the Doctrine of Discovery, found in international law and first practiced by the Crusaders taking over lands of vanquished Turks, perceived as pagans and unfit. In the fifteenth century, this precedent was published in four Papal bulls. Thus protected, American and European settlers headed west, especially following the1803 Louisiana Purchase. No matter that Native Americans were already there. “They’d have to change, be like us.”

From the mid 1700s, however, the Ioway tribe enjoyed a rich presence in and around what constitutes the state of Missouri. Their rituals, tradition, and practices bound them to the earth, perceived as sacred, and to their ancestors in the afterlife from whom they were influenced. From sunup to sundown, theirs was a predictable world, when not warring with another tribe, usually over hunting rights.   

Greg Olson’s use of primary sources, accompanied by photos and maps, makes those thirty-seven years bleed. Misunderstandings, language differences, the violation of multiple treaties, greed, dishonesty, and impatience justify the most stinking aberrations. In 1837, the government removed the Ioway to the Great Nemaha Reservation in the state of Oklahoma, a barren stretch of land where extreme poverty and alcoholism enervated the Ioway even more.

Yet, The Ioway in Missouri concludes with an inspiring epilogue. The Ioway still survive in Kansas and Nebraska and preserve their traditions.

Available on Amazon

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