Little Birds

This novel, set in 1858 in New Mexico Territory, serves as a bridge between the Wilderness series of novels and the first two novels of the Waverly Place series.

 Backstory: 1845

Callie Ballentyne is a young girl when her life is upended and she must leave the only home she knows. With her mother – recently widowed – and her younger brother Nathan she moves to Manhattan. Lily Ballentyne remarries, a well-to-do old family friend, and they settle down in a large house on Waverly Place. Callie never learns to like the city, but she and her brother respect their step-father (if not their step-sister Margaret), and school is a welcome distraction.

 At fifteen Callie enters into a midwifery apprenticeship with her cousin Amelie Savard. She attends nursing school as well, because her patients and their children need more than one kind of care.

When she has been practicing for some six years, the director at the New Amsterdam Hospital, where Callie is employed, brings her a letter from his brother-in-law, Dr. Samuel Markham of Santa Fe in New Mexico territory. Dr. Markham is looking for a nurse and midwife to join his practice. To the person who can meet his rather unusual requirements he offers a modest salary and room and board with his family. The requirements are unusual but they appeal to Callie.

Dr. Markham requires someone who is not put off by living far from civilization, with few amenities. The landscape is harsh; the person who joins his practice will have to be comfortable traveling on horseback to see patients. The patients are poor, and most of them have no English. A willingness to learn Spanish is a non-negotiable requirement. The Navajo, Apache and other tribes sometimes attack wagon trains and settlements, so this midwife must be courageous, committed and able to handle weapons. At the same time, she will be living side by side with Indians of many tribes — primarily the Puebloan –  and she must be ready to learn about their cultures without assumptions or prejudice.
Opening: 1857
With Nathan as a traveling companion, Callie sets out for Santa Fe. The first part of the journey is by train. The rail system reaches only as far as St. Louis, and from there they board a packet on the Missouri River. Once they reach the Kansas border they must join a wagon train.

Callie will find Santa Fe to be full of unexpected contrasts. It is a town dominated by two forces: first, the Army, which is there to protect the citizens from Indian raids and to keep the territory under American control. It is less than ten years since Mexico surrendered a

In the course of the journey west and finding a place for herself in Santa Fe, Callie finds she can no longer evade the repercussions of the events which made her mother leave Paradise for Manhattan. While she struggles with unresolved loss, she develops a relationship with Eli Ibarra, half Basque, half Pueblo Indian of the Jemez (Walatowa) Pueblo. In Santa Fe she deals with racial, religious and ethnic conflicts, with slavery and with women’s mental and physical health, and with the political chaos of a nation on the brink of Civil War.

Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street

If you could step into a time machine and go back to Manhattan in 1884, this is what you’d find where today the New York Public Library stands.

The Croton Distributing Reservoir was the above-ground reservoir at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue that provided  the city’s drinking water for much of the 19th century.  From Wikipedia: “The reservoir was a man-made lake 4 acres (16,000 m2) in area, surrounded by massive, 50-foot (15 m) high, 25-foot (7.6 m) thick granite walls. Its facade was done in a vaguely Egyptian style.”

The reservoir  was a favorite destination for tourists because the view from the promenade  was excellent:

In 1844 Edgar Allen Poe recommended the promenade:

When you visit Gotham, you should ride out Fifth Avenue, as far as the distributing reservoir, near Forty-third Street, I believe. The prospect from the walk around the reservoir is particularly beautiful. You can see, from this elevation, the north reservoir at Yorkville; the whole city to the Battery; and a large portion of the harbor, and long reaches of the Hudson and East Rivers.

Just across from the reservoir on Fifth Avenue was Rutger’s Female College, which was founded about 1840 (as a female ‘institute’)  on  the lower east side.

Looking south on Fifth Avenue
Looking south on Fifth Avenue

In 1860 the institution was upgraded to a college and moved to  the buildings at 487-491 Fifth Avenue,  built in 1856   as an early attempt at luxury apartments.

Sophie and Anna of The Gilded Hour attended Rutgers Female College.


Hoboken (undated)
Hoboken (undated)

In the early 19th century, Colonel John Stevens developed the Hoboken waterfront as a resort for Manhattanites.

hoboken-ferry-terminalOn October 11, 1811, Stevens’ ship the Juliana, began to operate as a ferry between Manhattan and Hoboken, making it the world’s first commercial steam ferry. In 1825, he designed and built a steam locomotive capable of hauling several passenger cars at his estate. Sybil’s Cave, a cave with a natural spring, was opened in 1832 and visitors came to pay a penny for a glass of water from the cave which was said to have medicinal powers. In 1841, the cave became a legend, when Edgar Allan Poe wrote “The Mystery of Marie Roget” about an event that took place there. The cave was closed in the late 1880s after the water was found to be contaminated.

The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Hoboken (source)

HOBOKEN, a city of Hudson co., New Jersey, on the Hudson river, opposite New York, with which it is connected by two steam ferries, and at the terminus of the Morris and Essex division of the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western railroad; pop. in 1850, 2,668; in 1860, 9,662; in 1870, 20,297, of whom 10,334 were foreigners. It joins Jersey City on the south, with which and with the adjoining places it is connected by horse cars, and extends about 1¾ m. N. and S., and 1 m. E. and W.

It is regularly laid out, a portion of the streets running nearly parallel with the river, and the others crossing them at right angles, and is for the most part compactly built. There are three public squares, viz.: Hudson square, near the river; the “Public” square, near the centre of the city; and a smaller one in the S. part.

The river frontage is only about ½ m., the N. portion of the city being separated from the Hudson by a narrow strip of land which was set off to Weehawken in 1859. At the S. end of this strip is Castle point, commanding a fine view of the river and New York harbor, and containing the Stevens mansion and grounds; and N. of the point are the “Elysian Fields,” formerly a favorite place of resort for New Yorkers, but now mostly sold for business purposes.

From just below the point to a short distance above a walk has been constructed along the margin of the Hudson, which forms a magnificent promenade. The river front is lined with wharves, and here are two United States bonded warehouses, and the termini of four lines of steamers to Europe, viz.: to Bremen, to Hamburg (two), and to Stettin.

Hoboken is divided into four wards, and is governed by a mayor and a common council of 12 members. The streets are paved and lighted with gas. Water is supplied from the Passaic river by the Jersey City water works, but it is proposed to erect separate works and supply the city from the Hackensack. The principal charitable institutions of Hoboken are St. Mary’s hospital (Roman Catholic) and the widows’ home.

There are three large brick public school houses. The schools comprise primary and grammar grades, and in 1874 had 27 teachers and about 3,000 pupils. Evening schools are opened in the winter. There are also an academy, a female seminary, a Catholic school, four weekly newspapers (two German), and 11 churches. — Hoboken was settled by the Dutch in the early part of the 17th century, and named from a village on the Scheldt a few miles S. of Antwerp. It became a city in 1855.

Catholic Churches in Hoboken

1864 – September 20:  The parish of “The Church of Our Lady of Grace” was incorporated under the laws of the State of New Jersey.The first Catholic school, the current Kelly Hall, opened. The Sisters of Charity conducted the education of the children.

1866 – The Sisters of Charity start to build a hospital and asylum. St. Mary Hospital was blessed on May 6, 1866.
1871 – St. Joseph parish church  founded
1874 – May 18: Work commenced on the building of the present Church located on the corner of 4th and Willow.




Hoboken Oral History Project