Friday, July 22, 2016

Cimarron - Edna Ferber

This is the story of Oklahoma.  It's told through the lives of Yancey Cravat, a dashing, charismatic lawyer, and his wife Sabra, a Wichita socialite.  They have a little boy they name Cimarron, Cim for short.  Yancey wants to go west.  He wants to go in the land run of 1889 and claim 160 acres for himself and his family.  Sabra's not so sure, but they pack up and go.  Yancey is outsmarted by a young woman during the land run and doesn't get the land he had his eye on.

So he and Sabra, Cim, and their little black servant boy, Isaiah, keep going.  They end up in Osage, a dirty, muddy, gun-slinging tent town.  There are Indians!  Sabra is horrified and wants to go home.  But Yancey is determined to stay and open a newspaper.  So they stay.

Sabra does her best and after a while, she becomes more comfortable with their life there.  But she still hates Indians.  She works at the newspaper, she organizes social clubs.  Yancey defends the underdog with fiery oration.  He wants to go another land run, but Sabra refuses.  He leaves her and their two children, Cim and Donna, and doesn't return for five years.

When he comes back, dramatically, as expected of him, he finds that Sabra is running the newspaper and doing pretty well with it.  But then he's off again to fight with the Rough Riders.  Then back in a few years, older and less charismatic each time.  As he fades, Sabra grows stronger.  Oil is discovered, there's a new oil run on the land, and lots of dirt farmers become millionaires overnight, but not Sabra.  She ends up as a politically savvy Congresswoman from Oklahoma, owner of a newspaper empire.

There are so many stories within this story that I won't begin to tell you about all of them.  On the way west, Cim was briefly lost.  When he marries the daughter of an Osage chief, Sabra wishes he hadn't been found that time.  The book is full of the racial hatred of the time, social snobbery, and ethnic stereotypes.  It's also the story of how strong some women are.  Ferber makes the point that the west couldn't have been settled  by sombreros alone, that bonnets were necessary, too.

The copy of the book I read, not the one in the photo, was a multi-novel volume.  I also read Show Boat and So Big.  All three told of women who realized they had to be strong to survive in a time when women were not expected to be strong like men.  The men in the three books leave their women, either by abandonment or death, and the women must take charge of their lives for their sake and the sake of their children. 

'... those four-footed kings without which life in this remote place could not have been sustained  -  horses of every size and type and color and degree.'

'Here a horse was more valuable than a human life.  A horse thief, caught, was summarily hanged to the nearest tree;  the killer of a man often went free.'

We are an ungrateful country with a short memory.


  1. I must get around to this one, I enjoyed Show Boat and So Big some years ago.

    1. This was only okay in my opinion. I liked So Big best. As I mentioned, I realized after reading all three that Ferber has a theme, or at least does in these three.

  2. This sounds kind of interesting

    1. She paints a very detailed picture of the settling of Oklahoma. It was hard for men and much harder for women. My mother's grandfather took his family from Pennsylvania to Wyoming in the late 1800s for some reason and then back to PA a few years later. My grandfather was born in Cheyenne. I wish I had known about that before all the people who knew about it had died. I have so many questions.