The western expansion is one of the most well-known eras in American History. Millions of people crossed the Appalachian Mountains, traveling into wild and uncharted land, fraught with danger. The Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe trail, massive Rocky Mountains, the California Gold Rush, seemingly endless plains, legendary mountain men, pioneers, outlaws, all these words stir up images of the Wild West.
These men, women and families, faced turmoil and countless trials. Failed crops, prairie fires, Indian raids, isolation. They survived bitter winters and blistering summers. They fought against lawlessness, and cattle thieves. Yet though everything conspired against them, most persevered and held on to the hope of creating a new life. Because of their dogged perseverance, town and cities were formed, and the west was settled. By the end of the 1890’s America was settled from the East Coast to the West Coast.
One of my favorite novels of this era is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. She weaves such a deep, historically rich story based off of the Biblical story of Hosea and Gomer, but set in the wildness of the California Gold Rush. This is a beautiful story of love and redemption, of trust and grace. It is a wonderful novel.
Listed below are novels for your perusing. I hope you enjoy this stop on our historical tour. Next, we will be heading into the Civil War, one of the few wars fought on American soil. This is a war which pitted brother against brother, and ultimately led to the abolition of slavery in the United States.
1835 Distant Dreams – Judith Pella and Tracie Peterson
The year is 1835 and Carolina Adams finds herself enchanted by an unlikely suitor…the railroad. Frustrated by society’s expectations upon her gender, she longs to study more masculine subjects and is thrilled when her father grants her a tutor.
James Baldwin arrives to serve as Carolina’s teacher, but of more importance, he is to court Carolina’s beautiful older sister, Virginia. Will expectations–and Virginia’s southern charm–elicit the hoped-for proposal? Or will James and Carolina dare to acknowledge the mutual interests and feelings growing between them?
This is the first of three books in a series
1836 The Doctor’s Lady – Jody Hedlund
Priscilla White knows she’ll never be a wife or mother and feels God’s call to the mission field in India. Dr. Eli Ernest is back from Oregon Country only long enough to raise awareness of missions to the natives before heading out West once more. But then Priscilla and Eli both receive news from the mission board: No longer will they send unmarried men and women into the field.
Left scrambling for options, the two realize the other might be the answer to their needs. Priscilla and Eli agree to a partnership, a marriage in name only that will allow them to follow God’s leading into the mission field. But as they journey west, this decision will be tested by the hardships of the trip and by the unexpected turnings of their hearts.
1845 Walks the Fire – Stephanie Grace Whitson
Jesse King doesn’t want to go west, but her husband has never been all that concerned with what his wife wants.
When tragedy strikes, Jesse is rescued by the Lakota Sioux, among whom she finds unexpected peace, a sense of belonging, and the love of a lifetime.
A compelling tale of one woman’s extraordinary faith as God leads her from prairie schooner to tepee, from tepee to frontier fort and on to a growing state capitol.
This is the first in a three book series.
1849 The Measure of a Lady – Deeanne Gist
Rachel van Buren arrives in Gold Rush San Francisco with two wishes: to protect her younger siblings and to return east as soon as possible. Both goals prove more difficult than she could imagine as her brother and sister are lured by the city’s dangerous freedom and a missionary-turned-gambler stakes a claim on her heart. Rachel won’t give up without a fight though, and soon all will learn an eloquent but humorous lesson about what truly makes a lady.
Speak Politely. Even when you’re the only respectable woman around, protesting the decadence of a city lost to gold fever.
Dress Modestly. Wear your sunbonnet at all times. Ensure nobody sees your work boots muddied by the San Francisco streets.
Remain Devoted to Family. Protect your siblings from the lures of the city, even against their wishes.
Stand Above Reproach. Most difficult when a wonderful man turns out to be a saloon owner.
Rise Above Temptation. No, not even just a little kiss….
When these rules become increasingly difficult to uphold, can Rachel Van Buren remain a beacon of virtue in a city of vice?
1850 Redeeming Love – Francine Rivers
California’s gold country, 1850. A time when men sold their souls for a bag of gold and women sold their bodies for a place to sleep. Angel expects nothing from men but betrayal. Sold into prostitution as a child, she survives by keeping her hatred alive. And what she hates most are the men who use her, leaving her empty and dead inside.
Then she meets Michael Hosea, a man who seeks his Father’s heart in everything. Michael obeys God’s call to marry Angel and to love her unconditionally. Slowly, day by day, he defies Angel’s every bitter expectation, until despite her resistance, her frozen heart begins to thaw.
But with her unexpected softening comes overwhelming feelings of unworthiness and fear. And so Angel runs. Back to the darkness, away from her husband’s pursuing love, terrified of the truth she no longer can deny: Her final healing must come from the One who loves her even more than Michael does…the One who will never let her go.
A powerful retelling of the story of Gomer and Hosea, Redeeming Love is a life-changing story of God’s unconditional, redemptive, all-consuming love.
1853 Beneath A Golden Veil – Melanie Dobson
As elegant as the Sacramento residence she operates, Isabelle Labrie keeps her past concealed, like the treasure she hides under the Golden Hotel. It’s 1853, the heyday of the California Gold Rush. Isabelle is full of hope, staking her claim on the city’s refined clientele and her future on a sweetheart’s promise to marry her when he returns from the gold fields. Then, unexpected guests—fugitive slaves seeking safe passage to the North—force her to confront her past and reconsider her path.
While Isabelle learns to trust God’s provisions, a law student in Virginia must confront his father’s cruelty and rescue a young slave from his family’s tobacco plantation. As the two escape to freedom, and Isabelle risks everything to harbor runaway slaves, the past and present are set on an inevitable collision course—one that reveals hidden treasures of the heart.
1860 A Bride in the Bargain – Deeanne Gist
In 1860s Seattle, a man with a wife could secure himself 640 acres of timberland. But because of his wife’s untimely death, Joe Denton finds himself about to lose half of his claim. Still in mourning, his best solution is to buy one of those Mercer girls arriving from the East. A woman he’ll marry in name but keep around mostly as a cook.
Anna Ivey’s journey west with Asa Mercer’s girls is an escape from the griefs of her past. She’s not supposed to be a bride, though, just a cook for the girls. But when they land, she’s handed to Joe Denton and the two find themselves in a knotty situation. She refuses to wed him and he’s about to lose his land. With only a few months left, can Joe convince this provoking–but beguiling–easterner to be his bride?
1866 Prairie Song – Mona Hodgson
Though it means saying goodbye to the beloved friends and spiritual mentors of her St. Charles, Missouri quilting circle, Anna Goben is certain that she needs to enlist her family in the Boones Lick Company wagon train. The loss of her beloved brother in the Civil War has paralyzed her mother and grandfather in a malaise of grief and depression and Anna is convinced that only a fresh start in the Promised Land of California can bring her family back to her. Although the unknown perils of the trail west loom, Anna’s commitment to caring for her loved ones leaves no room for fear—or even loving someone new.
During the five-month journey, trail hand Caleb Reger plans to keep a low profile as he watches over the band of travelers. Guarding secrets about his past and avoiding God’s calling on his life, Caleb wants to steer as far from Anna as she does him, but she proves to be just as he assessed her from the beginning— independent, beautiful trouble.
Led by a pillar of hope, the group faces rough terrain that begins to take a toll on their spirits. Will the wilderness of suffering lead them astray, or will the gentle song of love that echoes across the prairie turn their hearts toward God’s grace and the promise of a new home?
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