The Last Whippoorwill - Overview

About :   The Last Whippoorwill

An intriguing historical fiction, The Last Whippoorwill by Mary Bryan Stafford captivates the reader with unforgettable characters set against a historically accurate background of East Texas. It is easy to visualize and become immersed in the Allen family’s struggle to travel from Missouri to Texas in 1900. Set against a background of Texas’ coming-of-age, readers feel like passengers as Mama drives her wagon team, rocked by a storm, the wind sucking and swelling the canvas overhead, and animals shrieking.  Mama’s piano lurches against the children with its hammers plinking against the taut piano strings.

            Strong-willed Mama, a recent widow, meets her match with her youngest child

8-year-old Cora. Much more than a pioneering story of an uprooted family is Cora’s first-person narrative, “Mama and I always had our differences. My brothers maintained that we were too much alike – an assessment I found ludicrous.”

            Cora, the youngest of five children, is a spitfire with an attitude. She relates in short emotional dialog her attempts to sabotage her mother’s determination to relocate in Texas. To Cora “hell seemed a preferable alternative to Texas”. Feisty Cora, a daring defiant child, is in constant conflict with her tough, relentless Mama. Her overactive imagination and impetuous nature gets her into one scrape after another as she tries to thwart the success of the trip and get Mama to turn back.

            Crossing the Red River from Oklahoma into Texas, Cora’s courage and tough command are challenged by Choctaw braves, an incident that issues in her coming-of-age. As a teenager, she continues struggling with clashes of the character traits she shares with her mama.

            Mama is a believable, tough, determined woman. She had insisted that they tote a piano from Missouri in a covered wagon pulled by oxen. She had drug her children 450 miles to start a new life, hide a secret, and didn’t “care what hell she had to raise to get it done.” She is bossy. She grits her teeth and with vehemence in her voice tries to control her family, especially Cora.

            Mama’s and Cora’s stubbornness hold them together. Secrets are kept from Mama as the saga continues with believable family drama. Times change. Lives change. Change brings surprises for the family. Which risks are worth taking?

            The author states that the story’s plot began with her grandmother, Cora, telling stories of her childhood, “except for the parts she (the author) made up”. Her knowledge of historical Texas is apparent. Certainly not a memoir, but a tale of human drama, The Last Whippoorwill is peopled with courageous women. The story is relatable to girls and young women who clash with controlling mothers and search for where they belong in the world.

About Mary Bryan Stafford

Mary Bryan Stafford grew up in Texas and spent a good part of her childhood and adult years at the ranch that she wrote about in the book, A Wasp in the Fig Tree. She traveled to Virginia to attend William & Mary, majoring in Spanish and English, but she got back to Texas as soon as she could. When she returned, she taught school for 30 years, raised three daughters, coached tennis, sold real estate, and became what she was sure was the oldest living Texan teaching aerobic dance. During this time, she also discovered a new passion…writing. And when she finally retired, she kept on writing, while delving into another new passion…Natural Horsemanship. Mary writes what she knows about. She is a seventh generation Texan and Daughter of the Republic of Texas Her memoir, “Blowout,” a novel excerpt is published in What Wildness is This: Women Write about the Southwest, which won the Willa Award. Her memoir “Epiphany” is published in The Noble Generation III and her poetry is published multiple times in The Texas Poetry Calendar. In addition to winning first place in The Writers’ League of Texas contest, A Wasp in the Fig Tree won the Texas 2015 Author’s Award for Best Historical Fiction. Currently, she has just finished with her next novel entitled, The Last Whippoorwill, another Texas based historical novel.

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