A Mending at the Edge
This is the final installment in a trilogy about the life of Emma Wagner Giesy, the first woman of the Bethelites, a communal religious society, to come West to settle a new colony for the group. The group eventually settled in Oregon in 1856 and founded the town of Aurora.
In this installment, Emma is separated from her abusive second husband and is struggling to raise her four children. The community is also experiencing some difficult times. Their leader, William Keil, is distracted by grief when four of his children die of smallpox, and there is a shortage of housing for new arrivals. Some members become disenchanted with Keil, criticizing him for making decisions based on economics rather than religious beliefs. The group left Missouri to isolate themselves from a corrupt world, but in Oregon, Keil builds a hotel and restaurant and negotiates to have the railroad run through the settlement. In spite of these difficulties and disagreements, the community thrives because of the hard work of the members.
Emma continues to chafe at Keil’s authority and his beliefs about women. Emma is a devoted and caring mother, but she has a curious intellect and an artistic nature that she yearns to express. Above all, she wants to feel in control of her destiny. She tries to live by the community’s Diamond Rule, to make other’s lives better than one’s own life. In this she succeeds, making sacrifices so her son can attend the university and become a doctor, providing a safe haven in her home for other single and abandoned women, helping to arrange marriages, and caring for her aging parents.
Kirkpatrick did extensive research at the Aurora Colony Historical Society and interviewed descendants of many of the Aurora families. She has succeeded in breathing life into Emma’s story.