THUNDER ON THE PLAINS
Rosanne Bittner


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Doubleday, January 1992
Bantam paperback, August 1992
Reviewed by Sissy Jacobson


America 1857-1869

Bo Landers is a big man with a big dream, great wealth, and equally wealthy friends with the same dream. He and his entourage are in Omaha, Nebraska to begin a journey, one that will allow him see for himself if it is possible to accomplish that dream…a transcontinental railroad that will link Chicago with California.

In May 1857 Colt Travis, a twenty-year-old half Cherokee, is hired, along with his friend, mentor, and father figure, Slim Jessup, as scout to lead Bo Landers, his son Stuart, and his beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, Sunny, across the Great Plains from Omaha to Fort Laramie. Bo wants Colt's opinions on possible routes that will best support the railroad. It doesn't take long for Colt to realize that Sunny's name really does suit her. She is intelligent, mature, unspoiled, and kind. Her father has always taken her everywhere he goes. Her tutor goes along to ensure she has the very best education, because one day she will be taking over a good portion of her father's business. Sunny shares her father's dreams, and is determined to help him achieve his goals. Her half-brother, Stuart, is slowly becoming closer to his father, and since his marriage to Violet, has warmed up considerably to Sunny. However, Bo's eldest son, Vincent, and his wife Eve, are adamantly against Sunny, the railroad, and most anything else Bo stands for. Stuart and Vincent have each been given a branch of Landers Enterprises, along with shares of stock in each branch. Vincent fights Bo and Sunny every step of the way, Stuart walks a middle of the road line between the two, and Sunny tries to maintain peace and gain acceptance from her oldest half brother and his wife.

As they begin their journey, a love begins to blossom between Colt and Sunny. However, Sunny is mature enough to realize that it would be cruel to try and make Colt fit into her world, and it is absolutely necessary for her to remain in that world. She has vitally important work awaiting her in the future. They keep their feelings from each other, but Colt can't help being impressed by Sunny's courage, intelligence, and willingness to endure the rigors of travel. Through storms, encounters with Indians, threats by buffalo hunters, loss of life due to stampeding buffalo, and a grave injury to her leg, Sunny never complains. As they draw nearer to Fort Laramie, Colt makes a decision not to go on with the remaining Landers group. His feelings for Sunny are becoming too strong, as are hers for Colt.

This is the beginning of a beautiful love story that, despite their years of separation, slowly grows and endures through marriages, the Civil War, Bo's death, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and Indian uprisings. Through the years they sporadically keep in touch by letter and Colt visits Sunny the night he enlists in the army. Colt fights for the Union during the war, and Sunny travels back and forth between Chicago, Washington, D.C. and New York on behalf of the railroad.

THUNDER ON THE PLAINS is fiction based on well-researched fact. Dr. Thomas Durant and General John Casement are true historical figures who had to be included in this story because they were so important to the building of the Union Pacific from Omaha to Promontory Point, Utah. Many lives were lost in this great endeavor. The work was incredibly hard, the Indian attacks fatal on both sides, but the end results changed a nation. This is the story, fiction though it may be, of men and women who overcame incredible odds to connect a nation by rail. Lives were lost in order that lives might be saved by having a safer way to travel across the Great Plains and through the mountains. A few men and women with big dreams made a way for many people to see their dreams come true. It also is a beautiful story of an enduring love that stands the test of time in spite of all the roadblocks placed between Colt and Sunny. If you are looking for constant sexual tension and explicit love scenes throughout, this book is not for you.

I have read this book so many times, my first copy fell apart, and I had to buy a used copy to take its place. This is one of the all time best books I have ever read. There are no new copies of THUNDER ON THE PLAINS available, to my knowledge. If you want this book, try used bookstores in your area or online. Rosanne Bittner is an amazing writer who makes history come alive for her readers. All of her books are well-researched and as historically accurate as possible. They are fictional tales woven in and around actual historical facts.

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