Well, Harold Ross has done it again, for I believe the eighth time- 10 times, if you count his two books of poetry. This time, our home-town author-himself a Scotsman- weaves a tale of adventure of an Irish family coming to America. Their struggles and journeys will take them through Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, and Texas, but it all begins in Ireland. Here’s the geographic background for “Long Way Home”:
Matt and Mary O’Bannon, along with their two young sons, set sail from Ireland in 1846. Like thousands of other Irish, they were on the step of starvation’s door, in dire need and approaching destitute , due to the “Light Blight.” The unyielding fungus disease was destroying nearly all of the country’s potato crop, which had been almost the sole sustenance much of the Irish population depended on for survival.
The O’Bannon’s traveled to America aboard a ship full at each deck, above and below, with those who hoped to find a new future for themselves in a better place. But some, on the long and rugged journey, would trade hope for a cruel death aboard these coffin ships, as they came to be known.
The ravages of starvation, ill health, and disease would take the toll.
Like many others, they headed west in covered wagons-the O’Bannon family was fleeing the over-crowded Irish homeland as Harold’s opening paragraph describes from the beginning of their search for a place that they could call their own. It was to be along a difficult journey full of perils and challenges for these land-seeking pioneers, that led to their first stop somewhere in central Missouri in 1846.
From there the family began to drift apart. It was a time of social unrest in America, the onset of what came to be called, “The War between the States,” or the Civil War, The story moves on into 1863, when the O’Bannons move again, still headed west, and eventually wind up in west Texas, but now the older brothers had moved on. The youngest son, Lance, comes under the lax companionship of older brothers, and he begins to see how most of the male world functioned at that time.
He also learns a lot about his father, who, in an earlier day, had made an easier living gambling and learned how to win and became an adept with all kinds of cards. The son is an able learner and soon his father’s avocation becomes a way of life for him, as well.
In this fine tale, you will enjoy following the young Irishman as he makes his way through the danger and adventures of the Old West. It’s an easy-flowing book, but there is plenty of excitement as the reader tries to fathom what is going to happen, to whom, and when. Yes, the young gambler and gunman does find a home in the Colorado ranges - and he does finally find a good woman- and yes, it was a Long Way Home.
Filled with lots of gunplay, travel, and excitement, this book is a dandy read!
Glenn Busset is a professor emeritus and works at the Kansas State extension office.