2 out of 4 stars
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It’s a sad truth that people disappear from the pages of history without having their stories told or remembered. Fortunately for Elizabeth “Lizzie” Hoffman of Flagstaff, Arizona, author J.K. Hoffman rose to the challenge of bringing her story out of obscurity. Flagstaff’s Forgotten Cowgirl: The Journals of Lizzie Hoffman traces this woman’s remarkable journey through a fictionalized saga of her growing up and overcoming adversity.
Labeled as a “factitious book loosely based on real people and events,” Flagstaff’s Forgotten Cowgirl adopts a diary format, with Lizzie writing intermittent entries addressed to LJ (Lizzie’s Journal) throughout three distinct periods of her life. We first meet her in 1886 as a precocious ten-year-old, youngest of six, strong-willed and carefree, and already setting herself apart from other girls by dreaming of becoming a rancher. After she receives a black onyx horse that she believes is cursed, misfortune after misfortune fall upon her and her family. In 1896, when the dashing cowboy Ed Geddes breaks her heart, Lizzie impulsively takes off with Bill Shroyer, a family friend whom she eventually marries, to the cold wilderness of British Columbia and the Yukon. She learns to pan for gold, run a household and a business, and fend for herself in more ways than one. Yet her heart yearns for the home, the family, and the man she had left behind. When Ed and Lizzie finally reunite, she finds herself struggling to survive the most perilous adventure of all—love.
The book’s greatest strength lies in how Hoffman captured the voice and perspective of a young girl transitioning to womanhood. From the upbeat, childish tone of the earlier chapters to the more pensive feel of the later ones, we get a clear sense of Lizzie’s growth and the changes she undergoes. From the progression of her journal entries, we watch her grapple with family tragedies, social dogma, and sexism. Through it all, we become Lizzie’s confidants, privy to her thoughts, feelings, and secrets. Hoffman also portrayed the setting and time period with convincing structural and historical details. Towns, cities, and other key places were realistically rendered. References to events like the Pleasant Valley War, the gold fever, and President Roosevelt’s visit to the Grand Canyon were embedded into the narrative. Encounters with Hopi Indians and Gypsies as well as mentions of prominent figures like Jack London and Percival Lowell further lent authenticity to Lizzie’s story.
Unfortunately, the book also has several problematic elements. First, there are numerous editing errors and a few narrative inconsistencies. For instance, plural and possessive forms of words (e.g., sister’s instead of sisters) are interchanged, typographical errors are noted (e.g., "I the love you, LJ"), and commas are often misplaced or missing. It’s also jarring how the narration sometimes shifts to an omniscient point of view, such as instances when Lizzie would describe what other people are thinking (“He thought of how beautiful I looked in my bearskin skirt and lamb jacket”). The timeline was confusing as well. While Lizzie decided to leave Flagstaff in March 1896, the next entry showed her leaving town in February 1896.
Up to a certain point, the journal format worked in Lizzie’s favor, depicting her as a stubborn but charming character. However, like many autobiographical accounts, the self-centered context and the tendency to romanticize circumstances and events eventually detracted from the story being told. Statements that may sound endearing from a younger Lizzie (“They did not have in them the strength and determination that I did”) came across as vain from an older Lizzie (“I have two men fighting over me”). The dynamics between Ed and Lizzie also became a source of aggravation. I had the impression that the author was trying to tell a love story, but sadly, all I saw from Lizzie and Ed’s relationship are the hallmarks of abuse.
Flagstaff’s Forgotten Cowgirl is a character-driven tale steeped in geographical and historical details—something that history buffs can definitely sink their teeth into. However, for all the editing and narrative problems, I cannot rate this book any higher than 2 out of 4 stars.
Flagstaff's Forgotten Cowgirl
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