These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 Arizona Territories
Nancy E. Turner, author of These is my Words, turns a scattering of hand-me-down family stories into a fully imagined pioneer diary. Turner’s great-grandmother was a woman named Sarah Agnes Prine who lived a long intrepid life, ranching, roping, and rambunctiously raising her nine children. Few of the details of her long life resemble the deeds of Turner’s Sarah Prine, but the real Sarah’s spirit lives on in her fictional counterpart. A woman of fine fettle who coped with whatever came her way, Sarah Prine, whether real or imagined, was determined to succeed and to raise her family well.
The fictional Sarah single-mindedly meant to acquire an education. Turner writes These is my Words in the form of a diary kept over a span of twenty years. Initially, her prose is awkward and untrained, but Sarah wants to learn. When she meets people who are educated, she begs them to teach her how to improve her writing. She also begs for books, reading everything she can find and studying whenever she can find a spare moment. Soon Sarah’s prose is fluent, even graceful, so her story is energetic and full of lively details. These is my Words verbally replicates her physical growth from awkward young girl to mature wife and mother.
The novel begins with Sarah, her parents, and brothers on the trail from Arizona to Texas, because, as her mother teases, her father’s “feet is just itchin’”. A series of tragic events sends the family back to Arizona, where they end up homesteading southeast of Tucson, in a fairly fertile valley alongside Cienega Creek. Sarah’s story takes place during the last decades of the nineteenth century, so settlement is made more difficult by Geronimo and the Apache Indian wars. Turner has carefully researched the problems women like Sarah might have encountered, just as she has included a great deal of Tucson local color from those early years.
One of the pleasures of reading These is my Words comes from the novel’s panoramic oscillations. The story moves from trailing to settling and from ranch life to city dwelling, giving the reader the full flavor of early Arizona pioneering life. Hardship, heartache, heroism, they’re all included in the pages of These is my Words. Familial affection and romantic love are there, too. I often had tears in my eyes as I read this book, sometimes from the harshness of fate, but sometimes from the sensitivity of Sarah’s affections. No, I’m not giving away the plot. Suffice to say there are many, many good times to go with the bad, which I suspect was true of those rigorous pioneer days.
Over the years I have read countless first-person diaries written by western pioneer women, plus countless novels about such women’s trials. Hunter not only portrays the physical details with precision and accuracy, but she gets the tone just right. A Sarah Prine might have really written a diary such as These is my Words, and she might really have had adventures such as those encountered in Hunter’s pages. Readers who love western history and western lore will find Hunter’s novel a joy to read. I highly recommend it. -Ann Ronald
Also available by Nancy E. Turner: The Water and the Blood; Sarah’s Quilt; The Star Garden; Resolute.