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Little Century: Central Oregon in 1900

OPB | July 26, 2012 9:30 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 11:49 p.m.

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Little Century is the debut novel from Linfield College professor Anna Keesey. It’s the story of Esther Chambers, an orphan who moves from Chicago to high desert of Central Oregon in 1900 to live with a distant cousin after her mother dies.

When Esther arrives, she’s skeptical that she will ever feel at home in this foreign terrain:

Before her are miles of gray plain roughened with brush, rising into a blurred olive band of vegetation and other bands of smoke and slate blue too far away to be consequential. And beyond these the three rocky peaks Vincent calls the Sisters array themselves in robes of ice. Esther has never imagined a land so fruitless. Under snow is thin, silky dirt, and under that, rock so rough it catches the leather sole of one’s shoe. It is eerie rock; it has flowed from inside the earth through some unnatural crevice, blackening the landscape like Hades’s chariot. The shrubs are plentiful yet parsimonious, flexible but dry. Here and there, like scarecrows with giant heads, windmills brood over the plain.

Esther’s cousin, Ferris Pickett, is a cattle rancher involved in a turf war with sheepherders in the area, and angling to bring a railway line through town. He uses Esther’s arrival to secure more land in town, illegally setting her up to homestead on territory that he hopes to eventually add to his land.

As Esther gets to know the land, people, and politics of the region, she realizes that life in the small town of Century is far more complicated than it first seemed.

What do you know about life in the early 20th century — for cattlemen or shepherds, homesteaders or farmers? Have you heard family stories from that time?

What questions do you have for Anna Keesey?

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