Friday, March 22, 2013

Vingie E. Roe, The Heart of Night Wind: A Story of the Great North West (1913)

Sandry falls under Siletz' spell
This one is a heavy-duty romance set astride the standard elements of the logging novel. A man is loved by two women and despised by an unscrupulous rival, who is attempting to drive him out of business. Meanwhile, the man, a tenderfoot from the East, develops the true grit of a westerner.

Plot. Walter Sandry has come to the pinewoods of the Oregon coast to make money as owner-operator of a timber cutting company. Success needs to come quickly to (a) pay off potentially crippling debts and (b) please his invalid father.

Sandry’s business rival, a man named Hampden, blocks access to a large stand of his timber by fraudulently claiming a strip of land that the young Easterner believes is his own. Sandry fights to fill a large, important contract despite Hampden’s efforts to stop him, including the hiring away of most of his men and dynamiting a boom of logs as it’s being delivered.

Though he is nearly killed by the explosion, Sandry is able to make good on the contract with the help of his loyal foreman and the men of a local Indian tribe. Defeat, however, is seized from the jaws of victory when Hampden turns arsonist and begins burning down the woods. The novel’s climax involves a massive forest fire, which leaves Sandry singed and Hampden dead.

The Preacher's arrival stops a fight
Romance. The real heavy breathing in the novel involves the conflict between two women who compete for the heart and mind of Sandry. Young Siletz is a mysterious girl who works at the lumber camp for the cook. She is a child of the woods and embodies the spirit of the West, with her Indian name, meaning “Night Wind,” and her knowledge of Indian customs. In her are blended a spiritual purity made up of what she has learned from Nature and from a wandering preacher, a flute-playing and somewhat addled advocate of peace and love.

The other woman, Poppy Ordway, is a glamorous author from New York, who has come west with her typewriter to absorb local color for her current novel. She is a high-class vision straight from Fifth Avenue. Hovering on the brink of Fame—and sure of attaining it—she is surprised by her passionate desire to make a conquest of Sandry as well.

Sandry is suspended between his attraction to both women. One has his heart, but is only a simple girl of no particular breeding. The other, of good stock, comes with a pedigree. It’s a case of blue blood vs. a heart of gold. Meanwhile, he is unaware of the designs of either woman to bag him.

The choice is finally made for him in the forest fire that nearly sweeps them all to their doom. Siletz shows a willingness to die with Sandry in the flames, while Miss Ordway unceremoniously rides off on the only horse that will take her to safety. Saved by the arrival of rains that put out the fires, Sandry is finally assured of his love for Siletz, and they are set to live happily ever after.

White and nonwhite. Roe mixes race into her romantic triangle by having Siletz appear to be of mixed blood. All believe that she is a product of an Indian father and white mother. Thus, instructed by his father on the importance of “good blood” in a wife and mother, Sandry is particularly baffled by the unstablizing effect Siletz has on him.

A thrilling climax in the burning woods
He interprets her peculiar moods as signs of her savage ancestry, and he takes to calling her “Little Squaw.” We do not learn until the end that both of her parents were white. Her father was, in fact, the wandering flute-playing preacher. This discovery clears the way for the fulfillment of Sandry’s romantic attachment to her.

Women. Siletz is the stereotypical free-spirited western girl, who rides horses with ease and is at home in the wild. As she takes to riding Sandry’s horse, Black Bolt, we get this kind of description:

Something wild within her that had ever moved restlessly broke forth, a glorious flower of ecstasy. Day by day thereafter she loosed Black Bolt and sped into fields of Elysium, lost to earth, intoxicated, mad with the rush of wind and rain.

Poppy Ordway arrives in chapter eight “full of that heady quality which is distinctive of the vital woman, the woman of strong and excitable passions.” She is the epitome of elegant loveliness. Her “electric” smile sends a thrill through Sandry, and Siletz finds her beautiful, “like the sun on snow.”

A published writer, she is dedicated to her career in a way that would be applauded today. Buoyed up with “her high courage and confidence,” she is also ready to enlarge her ambitions by making room in her “self-centred life” for a romance with Walter Sandry.

Character. When we first meet Sandry, he is stiff and impersonal, partly because of his accustomed social position far above laborers and partly because he’s a fish out of water. In time, he toughens physically to the work, especially as he has to pitch in after his logging crews leave him.

His shining moment comes as he commands a group of loggers fighting the fire. He keeps them from running when they seem about to be overwhelmed by the flames. Then he saves their lives by finding shelter in an abandoned mineshaft.

Illustration, "Red Dapple," 1920
Wrapping up. Vingie Eve Roe (1879-1958) was a prolific writer of fiction, with 31 published novels, chiefly westerns. She was born in Kansas and grew up in Oklahoma Territory, her father a physician. In 1907 she settled in California.

Well over 100 works of her short fiction appeared in the magazines during 1906-1941, in Munsey’s and Street & Smith’s publications, and in later years, McCall’s and other slicks. Nine of her stories and novels were adapted to film, all but one during the Silent Era. The Heart of Night Wind reached the screen in 1915 as The Heart of the Night Wind.

The Heart of Night Wind is currently available online at google books and Internet Archive and for kindle and the nook. For more of Friday’s Forgotten Books, click over to Patti Abbott’s blog.

Further reading:

Charles Robert Goins, et al., Historical Atlas of Oklahoma, 4th edition, 2006
Nina Baym, Women Writers of the American West, 1833-1927, 2012
Ernest Boyce Ingles, et al., Peel’s Bibliography of the Canadian Prairies to 1953, 2003

Image sources:
Illustrations from the first edition by George Gibbs

Coming up: Saturday music, Merle Travis


  1. Replies
    1. I've become spoiled and am disappointed when I come across an early novel without them.

  2. Thanks to you, Ron, I've learned much more about Western literature's deep roots in American culture, roots that go back at least 100+ years, and maybe as far back as Fenimore Cooper's Natty Bumppo. (I've always considered that among the worst heroes' names ever.) I thought the Western romance was of recent origin. Ha! Little did I know.


    1. A romance is pretty much routine in all the novels I've been reading. It was there before Wister. Andy Adams is one of the few who declined to include it. Thanks, Carol, for dropping by.

  3. I'm going to have to read this one, despite its purple prose. Not only am I working on a novel set in Idaho logging country (I don't want to inadvertently use a similar plot device), but I'm curious to see if the author flagrantly copied the true story of how Ed Pulaski saved his fire crew (but for a few) in a mineshaft during the terrible forest fire of 1910 that swept eastern Washington, the Idaho Panhandle and into western Montana. It's a pretty famous story.

    1. Very possible. The whole plot of a villain trying to drive a logging operation owner out of business appears in 2-3 other novels I've read from this period.