Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rough Enough by Richard H. McBee Jr.

Rough Enough by Richard McBee traces the life of Richard Clow from his time on his brother-in-law's farm in Massachusetts to his death in Eugene, Oregon. 

Battle of Petersburg
On August 18, 1864, Clow enlists in the 22nd Massachusetts and spends his 100 days at a training facility.   Unsatisfied with that brief taste of military service and attracted by an enlistment bonus, Clow signs on for another 3 years in January 1865.  He joins the 56th Massachusetts and is sent to the Union trenches at Petersburg.  During this period he writes home to his family about his adventures.  On February 15, 1865, he complains about camp on Gallops Island near Boston and tells his sister, "I am feeling alright and want to get where it rains bullets."  He is soon granted his wish and is transported in a overcrowded ship to Fort Monroe.  When thrust into service on the picket line at Petersburg, Clow writes with bravado, "I was on picket the other night and how the balls did sing around the pit was a caution." 

In this part of McBee's biography, the author skillfully complements Clow's letters with narrative that explains comments in the letters.  McBee's commentary provides a good model for author's wishing to publish dairies and correspondence. 

Sadly, McBee had few first person resources for the rest of his biography.  We have Clow's diary which is an interesting collection of songs, shopping lists, and notations.  Unfortunately, this notebook requires McBee to draw on secondary sources to develop a rough picture of Clow's life after the Civil War.  Happily, the author is able to use these references to recreate Clow's experiences in the west.

Fort Buford
After spending a couple of years with his family in Minnesota and Wisconsin, he enlists in 13th Infantry.  He begins his time in the infantry as a defender of the frontier from Indian attacks.  He is stationed at Ft. Shaw, Camp Cooke, and Ft. Buford.  The author does a splendid job of describing the dangers of life in these forts where Indian attacks, depression, and alcoholism took their toll.

Following his military career, Clow starts life as a civilian in 1870 when he goes to work for the famous trader Charles Larpenteur at Fort Buford. Clow marries Larpenteur's stepdaughter Mary Bingham. Tragedy strikes in 1872 after the family moves to Little Sioux, Iowa.  His new born daughter dies less than  two months after her birth in January.  Clow's wife soon joins her daughter when she dies in April.  His friend and mentor, Charles Larpenteur, dies that November.  Readers might want to read Larpenteur's Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri: The Personal Narrative of Charles Larpenteur, 1833-1872.

Following his losses, Clow moves to Deadwood in the Dakota Territory where he begins a new career mining for gold.  He meets his second wife, Melinda Story, and they have two children.  The Clows spend the remainder of the their life in Idaho and Oregon homesteading, mining, and running a hotel.  Clow died in 1926 at 79 after ably demonstrating that he was Rough Enough for all the hardships that life could place in his path.

Richard McBee has been a secondary school principal for over thirty years in schools in South America, Africa, Europe, and the United States.  He wrote Rough Enough to chronicle the life of his great grandfather Richard Clow.  He is the author of Kalahari, a novel about the struggle for Black African rule in southern Africa, that is based on Richard's experiences in Botswana in the 1970s.  Richard and his wife live in Hood River, Oregon.

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