Written over a hundred-year period, the letters of Zenas Bartlett and his family and friends capture the vitality that marked the expansion and development of Texas during the nineteenth century. Warm, humorous, and illuminating, these letters and other papers record the changes in a family and in a region as bustling towns replaced clusters of log cabins and the hardships of the frontier were gradually mellowed by the luxuries of settled life.
The earliest letters describe the adventures of young Zenas Bartlett, who left his home in Maine and traveled first to Alabama and then to camps of the California Gold Rush. A new venture brought him to Marlin, Texas, in 1854. The transformation of a wilderness area into a prosperous community is the unifying theme of the rest of the collection.
Churchill Jones, Bartlett's future father-in-law, writes about his struggles to establish a cotton plantation at the Falls of the Brazos River. Zenas' antebellum letters perceptively reveal the poignancy of his partner's death and the joys of his own fulfilling marriage.
John Watkins, an associate in Bartlett's store, expresses the pride, loyalty, and eventual disillusionment of a soldier in the Civil War. Zenas' correspondence with his family in the East describes the privations endured by Marlin during Reconstruction.
Beguiling Mollie Dickson's schoolgirl journal and the letters of Zenas' large family depict happier times during the eighties and nineties. The last letters were written by Lottie Barnes, a former servant who recalls the tranquil years following the turn of the century. An epilogue brings the story to conclusion, and selections from the author's delightful collection of family photographs illustrate the book.
Frank Calvert Oltorf was reared on the "Marlin Compound," the home where members of this singular family lived or visited and where many of the manuscripts included in this book were found. His comments bind the letters in a narrative of pioneering, which is also a humorous and human family history.