The Last Whippoorwill
by Mary Bryan Stafford



High River Ranch Press, 2018. ISBN 978-1-732-16820-2.
Reviewed by Ann McCauley
Posted on 11/30/2018

Fiction: Historical

The Last Whippoorwill by Mary Bryan Stafford is historical fiction based on family folklore, careful research, and the author's imagination. It is told through the eyes of Cora, a precocious girl, as she grows into a young woman. It's a captivating tale layered with conflict, suspense, rich history, unconditional family love and personal growth. This is a story that stays with you long after the final page.

Cora is still reeling from the death of her father when her mother announces that the family is moving from their home in southeastern Missouri, west to South Texas. Cora adamantly balks at the idea of moving but within a few weeks finds herself reluctantly walking alongside their Conestoga wagon with her dog, Amazing Grace, who is also her best friend, as they head west to meet up with a wagon train for the journey to Texas.

Cora's stoic resolute mother leads her two teenage sons, teenage daughter and Cora on the trail to Texas. They survive many harrowing weeks on the trail: an Indian attack that nearly kills Cora's older brother, low food supplies, and multiple trail discomforts in their efforts to reach the homestead their mother bought, brokered for her by a cousin in Texas. Yet through it all her mother's heavy upright piano remains intact on the covered wagon - through river crossings, muddy roads, hills where everything else on the wagon was unloaded to decrease the weight for the burdened mules. The piano stays. Cora's mom is an accomplished pianist.

Cora and her mother share a streak of stubbornness that serves them well; except for those times it proves to be thorn in their sides. The hard work of cotton farming, animal husbandry, and education for all the children were priorities that pay off well for the family. The story starts in the early 1900s and ends during WW1, following Cora from the year she is nine into her twenties. The plot is straightforward and richly developed as are the depths of the characters. Cora's relationships with her older brothers made me regret I was the first born in my family, it would have been nice to have a big brother to look out for me! This is a beautiful and gripping story; I highly recommend it.


Mary Bryan Stafford won the Texas Best Historical Fiction in 2015 for her debut novel, A Wasp in The Fig Tree. She has written two memoirs and published many poems in the Texas Poetry Calendar. She is a seventh generation Daughter of the Republic of Texas, and makes her home in the Texas hill country with her husband.

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