By: Brenda K. Marshall
Publisher: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies
Publishing Date: November 2010
Reviewed by: Mary Lignor
Review Date: October 18, 2011
This is an extremely moving story of life in the Dakota Territory in the late 19th Century. It's a story of the very verdant plains of the Mississippi River in the mid-1800's. The buffalo had been mostly destroyed and the Indians had been banished from the lands that they had lived on all their lives. The Government of the United States granted acres and acres of land to the Railroads, at that time, in order to communicate with the west. Railroad executives were among the very first investors and risk takers among the people wanting to settle the West.
There is not much action in the first half of the novel but the author introduces the Dakota Territory to the reader and the work of bringing investors and their money into this place with its freezing cold winters and hot, fly-infested summers on the plains.
The author however, introduces real-life characters that have their good days and bad days just like everyone. The main characters are John Bingham; his son, Percy; daughter, Anna and daughter-in-law, Frances. Percy doesn't like any of the careers his father has picked out for him and Percy's wife Frances seems to be the most attractive and interesting member of the family. The senior Mr. Bingham (John) does not have any trouble skimming money off the top from the profits of the railroad financing and the railroad's growing partnerships with the immigrant farmers. The Bingham family builds a huge mansion which is used as an entertainment and hotel site for business people as well as their own family home. Readers are then introduced to the schemes of corporations and very rich individuals who operate the railroad companies. Percy, sadly, turns to alcohol and does not treat Frances, his wife, very well. Frances, however, becomes the main character in the novel. The book tells of the Binghams, father and son. Percy becomes a reporter for the newspaper so, doesn't spend much time at home. His attitude toward Frances never improves and she becomes friends with servants (which is inappropiate in that day and age).
The author's descriptions of the vast prairie in the heat of summer and the chilling winter cold are so realistic that the readers will seem to experience the hardships as the story is told. Excellent research by the author keeps the reader interested.
Quill Says: This is a wonderful read about an area and time that was often neglected in American Historical Fiction.