Where Coyotes Howl

Written by Sandra Dallas
Review by Angela Moody

Ellen Webster is a wide-eyed, naïve young woman who comes to the town of Wallace, Wyoming, in the early 20th century to be the schoolteacher because she likes the name of the town. Soon after she arrives, Ellen meets Charlie Bacon, whom his friends call “Fatback” because of his last name. They fall in love and marry.

Ellen and Charlie begin ranching life on the outskirts of Wallace. Life is hard on the prairie, and they struggle to gain a foothold. The only thing keeping them together is their love for one another, as they endure one hardship after another—drought, death, and cattle rustling, to name just a few.

The story is good, and Dallas captures the essence of how hard life was in the high plains, especially for women. But the novel is also full of social stereotypes. Mr. McGinty and Mr. Brownell are the most obvious, as slovenly, poor, hard-drinking wife-beaters. On the other hand, the Gurleys are well-off, kind, giving people, as are Charlie and Ellen.

I found myself thinking of the old Western TV shows with characters distinguished in their goodness or evil by what color hat they wore, white or black. In this story, if you are poor or having a hard time of it, you are a black hat who beats your wife and drinks too much. I would have liked to see a couple that was not well-off but loved each other and were also good people. The most intriguing character is Miss Ferguson, a friend of Ellen’s. I would have liked to know her better.