Martha Poindexter Maupin came across the Oregon Trail in 1850. Two years after the death of her husband in 1866, she bought land near the present-day town of Kellogg, about an hour southwest of Eugene, Oregon. Today her great-great-granddaughter Janet Fisher lives on the farm. A Place of Her Own is not only Martha’s story but the story of Janet’s journey of discovery as she unearths the history of her family’s land.
It is not always a heart-warming story. Martha married against her parents’ wishes. Her husband, Garrett, drank too much and abused his family. He dissuaded Martha when she filed for divorce, but he never really reformed. Fisher sensitively explores the mix of emotions that must have washed over Martha following Garrett’s accidental death, while touching briefly on struggles from her own personal life that inevitably surfaced in the course of such an undertaking.
Ultimately, it is a story of strength and courage, as Martha overcomes the many hardships inherent to the times in which she lived and the roads she chose. She walked the Oregon Trail, pregnant and unable to endure the jolting wagon. She stood up to her husband’s abuse. She bought and farmed more than 300 acres of land as a single woman with seven children at home. At the time of her death she was lauded as “a lady of great moral, and physical courage … one of the builders of our fair state” (p. 231, quote from Eugene Register-Guard 1909 obituary).
Janet’s account of Martha’s life is written in novel form from Martha’s point of view. It is interspersed with “Interludes” from Janet that relate some of the logistical challenges of genealogical research, joyful moments of discovery, her yearning to connect with her great-great-grandmother, and the emotional challenges of traversing Martha’s darkest moments.
The author’s journalistic background shows through; the biographical narrative brings out themes, anticipates developments, connects the present with the past. Historical purists might quibble with Janet’s reconstruction of scenes, conversations, and feelings. But the end product not only represents a very readable tale, it embodies Janet’s aim to “find” the woman to whom she is linked not only by genealogy but by ownership of the land as a single woman.
A Place of Her Own will appeal particularly to those interested in pioneer stories, the Oregon Trail, and local history. Anyone researching family history will find Janet’s process intriguing and rewarding. Local readers will have the opportunity to meet and visit with Janet at noon on Thursday, October 9, 2014, when she will be the featured author at The Book Nest’s Lunch with an Author in Springfield. (For more information, check The Book Nest Facebook page: www.facebook.com/TheBookNest
Speaking of The Register Guard, Janet’s book dovetails nicely with Dorcas Smucker’s July 6 column on the importance of preserving family history (read it here: Written Word Makes Family Legacies Last). Dorcas will be the featured guest at The Book Nest next Thursday, July 17, 2014.