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Land of the Buffalo Bones: The Diary of Mary Ann Elizabeth Rodgers, an English Girl in Minnesota, New Yeovil, 1873

Review

Land of the Buffalo Bones: The Diary of Mary Ann Elizabeth Rodgers, an English Girl in Minnesota, New Yeovil, 1873

For Mary Ann her trip to America, to Minnesota, is wonderful and exciting. At least it begins that way. Her father, the Revered Dr. George Rodgers, is their leader. He went to Minnesota and set everything up with the Northern Pacific Railroad. The company has promised to build the immigrants a town, complete with streets, shops, a school and a church. They are also paying passage for Mary Ann and her family to their new life.

It is not long before Mary Ann discovers that this adventure is not going to be an easy one. Many of the travelers get terribly sick on the journey across the Atlantic. Mary Ann's best friend Jane loses her dear brother and Mary Ann wrestles with the misery of Timmy's burial at sea. Jane's mother is grief stricken and seems to lose her grip on life. Jane straightens her back and takes on the job of caring for her father and mother.

In the middle of a violent spring storm, the weary travelers arrive at their destination. They discover that there is no town, just an open prairie. The immigrants turn on Dr. Rodgers, demanding an explanation. He is unable to give one but talks about how easy it will be to build the town themselves. The question is, what are they to build their town with? There are no trees. Why didn't Dr. Rodgers tell them there were no trees. The scholarly, overly optimistic man of cloth forgot to mention many things. It never occurred to the highly impractical man to think of these matters when he visited Minnesota the first time.

So painfully, with much suffering and much grumbling, the English settlers begin the monumental task of creating a life for themselves in this foreign land. They are stricken with drought, fire, locusts and winter storms. It seems that they are truly cursed. Mary Ann wonders why her father took them from their comfortable life in England to suffer so much in this strange and inhospitable country. She begins to see him as he really is, a good but unwise man, a man who speaks big words but has no real idea of how life is to be led. It is she and her stepmother who hold the family together. In fact, the two become closer as they share the burden of caring for the family.

Mary Ann's relationship with her dear and much loved Jane also changes. Jane's mother gives up on life, committing suicide. Her father turns to drinking and becomes a violent and angry man, blaming the reverend for all his woes. He takes his anger out on his daughter and she retreats from Mary Ann, seeking solace in the most unexpected place of all. Mary Ann can no longer turn to Jane for comfort and companionship. She must move on alone, helping her mother with the children and doing her best to support her father.

This remarkable story is haunting. The author shares her discoveries about her great-grandfather and his family with great understanding and sympathy. She offers no excuses for the occasionally thoughtless things the Reverend Rodgers says and does. That is the kind of man he is, learned and impractical. Despite the suffering his family is put through, they endure and make a life for themselves in America. We are reminded of how harsh pioneer life often was, even in the late 1870s. Dr. Rodgers's community was ill-prepared. The people were not used to the farming life and living at the mercy of wind, sun, rain and snow. This special edition "Dear America" book is truly unique and offers extraordinary personal insight into a story very few people have heard.

Reviewed by Marya Jansen-Gruber on April 1, 2003

Land of the Buffalo Bones: The Diary of Mary Ann Elizabeth Rodgers, an English Girl in Minnesota, New Yeovil, 1873
by Marion Dane Bauer

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2003
  • Hardcover: 221 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
  • ISBN-10: 0439220270
  • ISBN-13: 9780439220279