Too often, we overlook the marketing and advertisement of books while excavating authors and pondering the literary significance of their words. While digging away in the archives, I uncovered the Army Letters… book review in “Literary Digest”:
Book Review 1909; $2.00.
Camp life from the point of view of an army officer is a not unusual theme; the same experiences as seen through the eyes of the officer’s wife are not so often recorded. It is the feminine quality of the present book that forms its principal attraction. That the role of officer’s wife is not one of unalloyed pleasure is abundantly proven by this story of frequent danger and disaster.
These letters were written from various military posts in Colorado, Indian Territory. Montana, and other Western points during the years 1871-88. Garrison dances, buffalo hunts, horse thieving, and the entertainment of Indian chiefs all enter the narrative. The incidents related are mostly of purely personal interest for these seventy years constituted in a fairly peaceable period.
Mrs. Roe vouches for the truth of her experiences and, indeed, they are sufficiently stirring to obviate the necessity of drawing on the imagination. The story is told in simple direct language with not attempt at literary finish.
How do you sell a book to the public? Particularly, a woman writing about her adventures with the army on the Western frontier. Late 19th century and early 20th century publishers were busily printing women’s diaries and letters in magazines and books. From Elizabeth Bacon Custer memorializing her husband General Custer, “Boots and Saddles” (1885), “Tenting on the Plains (1887), and “Following the Guidon” (1890); to Sarah Morgan’s “The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman” (1913). Leisure writing was an acceptable way to earn an income for wives, mothers, widows, and unmarried women -spinsters Gasp! Hidden away in their attics, scribbling women were merely enjoying a leisurely past-time; since literary authorship was the domain of men. Ergo, women could scribble and earn a small income without stepping on the sensitive toes of serious authorship.
The simple truth for military wives and widows was a need to supplement their retirement and the husbands military pensions; but more often, to survive in a world that discouraged middle class women from earning wages in the public sphere. Maybe Roe needed to earn extra-income and the reason for publishing the letters. Or, just maybe- she had a story to tell.
Army Letters… straddles history, geography, and literature. The letters record 19th century military life and protocol. The living conditions on the army forts and posts from a woman’s viewpoint is filled with fine detail. The recounting of the native tribes and the 19th century attitude towards the indigenous population against the backdrop of the army’s mission gives history buffs a perspective often overlooked in the makings of a country. Roe recounts territories, landmarks, landscapes, and noteworthy figures in ‘real time’ authenticity.
Roe’s significant role in recording historical events, places, situations, and noteworthy figures is a vast untapped treasure trove of American history. She is one of the many women who changed the face of a country, and are often overlooked and rarely recorded.
The truth of the matter, Roe was in good company of unwavering women with Grit- living life to the fullest. Many a hardy frontier woman such as Agnes Morley a ranch owner who simply stated a fact that –a six-shooter makes men and women equal, to Pamela Mann; a Texan who demanded her oxen returned by Sam Houston on the muddy trails to Nacogdoches –General, you told me a damn lie, I want my oxen, recounted in a witnesses diary as “Houston’s Defeat,” were the lionhearted women on the Western frontier.
Roe’s letters transport readers back to the days of Westward expansion, and a woman who’s brand of patriotism or as she called “Americanism,” had leaped into the saddle, grabbed the reins and embraced all that came her way in the far West.