Noelle Sickels Historical fiction Historical novels Historical fiction about WWII Historical paranormal thriller Teaneck NJ in the sixties Out of Love The Shopkeeper’s Wife The Medium Walking West In domestic Service Zone 3 Barefoot Productions Time Was Reminiscences by senior citizens Noelle Sickels Poetry Noelle Sickels Anthologies Noelle Sickels Memoir Searching for Armando
In the wet spring of 1852, a small band of Indiana farm families sets off by wagon for California. Among them is Alice Muller, a reluctant traveler persuaded to head west by her husband Henry, a usually quiet, careful man who has been swept up in the promise of prosperity in California and adventure along the way. In Council Bluffs, Iowa, the rough-and-tumble jumping-off place to the frontier on the shores of the Missouri River, Alice discovers she is pregnant, providing one more reason for her to fear and resent the journey.
The Muller party crosses treacherous rivers, slogs through mud and thunderstorms, and hauls wagons up and down mountains and over baking deserts. Bound together around the clock for
seven months, the group's coherence and very survival are repeatedly threatened in various ways: by challenges to Henry's leadership, by a forbidden love affair and new friendships, by deaths from accidents and swiftly fatal diseases, even by crime and the brutal necessity of vigilante justice. Alice Muller responds to these events first as Henry's helpmate, and then, gradually, as an equal voice and force in the decisions and actions that carry the intrepid, bone-weary emigrants through their final, harrowing miles. Alice enters new territory, literally and figuratively, with every step she takes.
Offering a woman’s perspective on the great westward migration, WALKING WEST combines history and storytelling in a novel of astonishing authenticity and emotional power.
Hatching the Idea
WALKING WEST was my first novel. Before that, my writing had consisted of short stories and essays. Then, I came across Lillian Schlissel's Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey, a collection of diaries and letters from the arduous overland trek to Oregon and California undertaken by thousands of families in the mid-nineteenth century. It seemed to me ripe material for a novel, one that could set out the feminine view of this historic period, which has more often been portrayed through the icons of cowboys, outlaws, Indian-fighters, and gold-seekers.
Subsequently, finding myself stuck on a piece of autobiographical writing, I decided to try working on something completely divorced from my direct experience. Recalling my fascination with the overland diaries, I took up my pen and immediately saw in my mind's eye a woman on a windy hilltop the day before she would regretfully leave her Indiana farm for the new land of California. Like a miniature hologram, Alice Muller swept her long skirts across my desk and let me know she had a story to tell.
By the time the final version of WALKING WEST was complete, I had read scores of trail diaries and reminiscences, by both men and women, as well as many scholarly books on the era. I had maps and more maps, emigrant guidebooks from the 1800's, lists of foods and recipes, drawings of clothing styles, and a notebook full of colloquial expressions. I had visited trail sites in Nebraska, Wyoming, Oregon, and California. I’d climbed Chimney Rock and Independence Rock, wandered through Fort Laramie, hiked in wagon ruts along the Platte River and over steep trails in the Sierras, watched thunderstorms race across vast skies, and scanned the wide desert with new eyes, imagining facing it all with only a wagon, some oxen, a few companions, and my own two feet.