Agnes Canon’s War: Honoring the “Bit Players” of History
by Deborah Lincoln
I once mentioned to my eight-year-old niece that I was writing a story about her several-times great grandma, and she said, emphatically, that she wasn’t at all interested in reading about dead people. She wanted to read about live people, by which I think she meant Harry Potter.
I understand that. Not everyone enjoys historical fiction; it can be an acquired taste. But how can you pass up a story like this?
Pre-Civil War America: A young man leaves his home in Maine and walks to Pennsylvania, hoping to get into a course of medical training, but is turned down. He teaches school, meets a young woman whose father rejects his suit, heads west, crosses the Panama Isthmus to California, joins the army as a doctor during the Mexican War, returns east, marries the girl who waited ten years for him and moves to Missouri.
Meanwhile, a young woman with a horde of sisters (and one brother) joins a group of family
members emigrating to the Missouri frontier (how hard is that for a single woman in the 1850s?), where she meets and marries a widowed doctor whose secessionist views land them in all sorts of troubles during the war and result in their exile to the Montana wilderness at its end. Further adventures ensue.
These are the bit players of history, and these are the facts of their lives. This is you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up territory: why invent a plot when there it is, needing just a little flesh on its bones, full of enduring lessons about life, love, hate, war, freedom — all those great truths we turn to literature to illuminate.