All my life I’ve been a finder of things that disappear until they sing the song of ally-ho here I am! Just tell me what you are looking for and I will listen for that song. The curious journey of the reprinted book, Army Letters from an Officer’s Wife, 1871-1888 had been passed around from colleagues, to a professor who in turn, handed it to me with the challenge. Is this book fact or fiction and who was Frances M.A. Roe? The difference this time was finding someone who had passed away long ago while leaving bits and pieces here and there along the journey.
Where to begin the search was not a matter of finding something lost, but about Frances M. A. Roe finding me. Frances Roe’s sparse biography led me on a road of discovery. From digging through online databases, to library archives, county and church records, genealogies and society memberships. At every turn, I was seeking the next hidden door from her tell-tale clues.
Truthfully, these were the easy finds in my quest to create Roe’s biography. However, Frances was not content with the game of lost and found outside her book. Like a December blast of nor’wester Montana wind, she stepped in to tell me her story within the letters. There she sat impatiently upon her champion steed,“An old proverb tells us that ‘All things come to him who waits,’ but I never had faith in this, for I have patiently waited many times for things that never found me.” I listened to her adventures about the ‘far West’ and was transported backwards in time.
Roe’s letters are the evidence of an accomplished and competitive sports-woman. She celebrates her strength and equestrian agility on the Great Plains of South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska territories. Enthusiastically, fly fishing in the pristine rivers, camping under cathedral skies, and hunting buffalo and antelope with Faye, Hal -her English grey hound and fellow military officers on the majestic mountains of the Colorado and Montana Territories.
Army Letters… speaks volumes about one woman’s individualism and passion realized on the Western frontier. Roe does not try to become an army officer or act like a man within the foremost patriarchal military bastion of archaic dominant ranking systems. On the contrary, self-actualization and self-fulfillment are appreciated in the unchartered territory of womanhood to confidently exhibit physical endurance, strength, and mental acuity in the Eden of the West.
Her story is a living breathing accomplishment of womanhood. Frances Marie Antoinette Mack Roe – (pronounced ‘rae’) had chosen her destiny to live the uncommon life. William Jennings Bryan’s “America’s Mission” speech brings to mind the finest description of Roe’s passion for living life to the fullest, Destiny is not matter of chance, it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.
Funny, that I’m a finder of many things. Yet, never realizing that maybe, I had been lost and found by a woman quietly buried for nearly one hundred years. Tim Scherman- Ph.D NEIU English Department, not only brought the adventures of the Western frontier to me, but a life long quest of my new friend, Frances Roe.
I hope you find as much interest in Frances as I have in sharing her other story. A story she has patiently waited many times for, and finally found once again to celebrate a courageous life that had passed….
Mary Dohm Wurtzebach
For what is done or learned by one class of women becomes, by virtue of their common womanhood, the property of all women