Esther Chambers’ mother passes away and so she makes the journey from Chicago to the ranching lands of Century, Oregon. A distant cousin, Ferris Pickett, meets her and asks her to homestead a piece of land he hopes to one day add to his thriving cattle operation. Only 18, Esther doesn’t meet the qualifications for homesteading, but Pickett encourages her to claim she’s 21 and to live on the land, in a tiny cabin, and farm it with minimal help until enough time passes that he might obtain it. Esther meets a cast of characters very different from any she’s known in Chicago. There’s the postmistress who steams open everyone’s mail and reports her intelligence; there’s the school teacher with a shady past who changed her name and hopes for a new life; there are the sheepherders, namely the Cruffs, who want to share the land with the cattle ranchers who refuse to do so; and there is the railroad, whom the cattlemen attempt to woo in the hopes that they will extend the line to include tiny Century, making it easier to ship their cattle east. But the conflict between the cattlemen and the sheepherders becomes vicious, with stock slaughtered, men beaten, and homes torched.
When Pickett asks Esther for an “understanding” for them to wed, she agrees. She has come to love the land and enjoys her little patch of it more than she ever thought. But Pickett hasn’t told Esther much about himself, and as Esther comes to understand his past and his involvement in the current conflict between the cattlemen and the sheepherders, she finds herself in a tough position.
The publisher likens this book to Willa Cather’s work, and I’d agree. It’s a grown up “Little House on the Prairie” with some historic conflict over grazing rights thrown in. It’s very slow in the beginning as Esther acclimates to Oregon life, but as the discord in town grows and Esther must choose a side, it comes to a satisfying conclusion.
Amazon link is here.