Five books offer different takes on early life in Idaho for Let's Talk About It

Year after year in the late 1800s Moscow residents were dying of typhoid.

A sewer system was proposed by a local doctor as typhoid is a bacterial disease spread by fecal matter in the water. A rival doctor objected to the taxes this would levy against his substantial real estate holdings.

Women in the community didn’t have the right to vote. Instead they could only work to convince the men of the good the project would bring.

The story plays out in historical fiction in the novel “Buffalo Coat” by Carol Ryrie Brink, who used events that took place between 1885-1902 involving her grandfather, a buffalo coat-wearing doctor. It’s the first book in the Let’s Talk About It book discussion series starting Tuesday in Moscow. The series’ theme is “Idaho at 150 — Sesquicentennial Days” and the five books chosen offer different views of early life and challenges people faced in the territory and state.

“All these books present different parts of that mosaic of Idaho history,” says Chris Sokol of the Moscow Public Library, which is collaborating with the University of Idaho Library for the series. The Idaho Commission for Libraries provides the libraries with multiple copies of the books for the series. A local scholar will give a free presentation on each title.

“It’s a series people can participate in and feel like they’re learning a little more. They’re delving into a topic,” Sokol says.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, “Buffalo Coat” Where: 1912 Center Great Room, 412 E. Third St. Scholar: Paula Coomer of Clarkston

Author Carol Ryrie Brink is often remembered as the Idaho-born Newbery Award winning author of the children’s book “Caddie Woodlawn.” Brink spent her childhood in Moscow, which is the setting for her first adult novel, “Buffalo Coat.”

When: 7 p.m. Jan. 30, “A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West,” Where: University of Idaho Library Scholar: Ron McFarland of Moscow

“A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West,” is the memoir of Mary Hallock Foote, who came West in the 1880s and spent some time in Boise. Born on a Hudson Valley Quaker farm she became an accomplished illustrator and short story writer. After coming West with her engineer husband she chronicled her ambivalence to the region. While she found the land beautiful she felt isolated and found life to be incredibly harsh for women. Her memoir inspired Wallace Stegner’s controversial Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Angle of Repose.”

When: 7 p.m. Feb. 7, “Thousand Pieces of Gold” Where: 1912 Center Great Room Scholar: Lesa Luders of Moscow

“Thousand Pieces of Gold” is the novel that made Chinese immigrant Polly Bemis famous worldwide. Sold by her father in China during a famine, Bemis was eventually brought to Idaho’s Warren mining district in the 1880s. The book, by Ruthanne Lum McCunn, brings to life Bemis’ courage, hard work and indomitable spirit along with the anti-Chinese prejudice eastern immigrants of the time endured.

When: 7 p.m. Feb. 26, “Home Below Hell’s Canyon” Where: 1912 Center Great Room Scholar: Barbara Meldrum of Moscow

Author Grace Jordan
Author Grace Jordan

In the autobiography “Home Below Hell’s Canyon” Grace Jordan describes life on a remote sheep ranch in the 1930s in the Snake River Canyon south of Lewiston. Grace, her husband, Len, and their three children move to the gorge during the Depression and become self-sufficient. Their lives are centered around family, hard work and common sense in a landscape many would consider extreme. Len Jordan later became an Idaho governor and U.S. senator.

When: 7 p.m. March 20, “We Sagebrush Folks” Where: University of Idaho Library Scholar: Ron McFarland of Moscow

At first the educated and cultivated Annie Pike Greenwood was in love with the mountains when her family moved from Utah to a Carey Act farm on the Twin Falls North Side Project. She soon found the frontier to have adverse effects on women. In “We Sagebrush Folks,” the former teacher frankly relates the costs of hard work, poverty and distance on the human soul.

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