Book Review: Dear America: All the Stars in the Sky, The Santa Fe Trail Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder (Santa Fe Trail, 1848) by Megan McDonald

allstarsIn this charming book, Florrie and her family set out from Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico where her step-father, Mr. Ryder, holds a successful trading business. This story is told in the true, authentic voice of a Southern thirteen-year-old girl, making Florrie a delightfully humorous and colorful protagonist. What makes this DA diary stand out among the others that are about pioneers migrating west (such as Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie or West to a Land of Plenty) is that the Ryders were not taking common families’ trails, such as the Oregon Trail, but rather the traders’ and merchants’ route. So instead of reading about Florrie’s relationships and socializing with other families in their wagon train, we get to read more about the grown men with whom they travelled– complete with their talk of business, tall tales, swearing, and tobacco-chewing, and the antics of Florrie and her little brother Jem as they are dwelling among such characters. The heart of the story is the Ryders’ stay at the Colorado trading post Bent’s Fort, where Florrie befriends the Fort’s diverse mix of visitors, including a mountain man, a Spanish boy, a cook, and a Cheyenne girl.

This book was a joy to read and is one I strongly recommend. There are some very sad parts, but it gives our Florrie and her story more depth. What’s more, I was pleased to learn that the topics of Bent’s Fort and the Santa Fe Trail are very near and dear to the author’s heart. McDonald is somewhat of an authority on the subject matter, having lived for a summer at Bent’s Old Fort National Historical Site (and kept a diary herself during this time), as well as closely studied the diary of Susan Magoffin, who was the first woman to have ever travelled the Santa Fe Trail.