Cookesville, U.S.A. is a fictional western town whose story, location and peoples have been ripped from the pages of history. From Santa Fé, New Mexico to the goldfields of California in 1850, to the settling of Cookesville in California's Central Valley, its colorful characters bring to life the true drama of westward expansion.
Cookesville introduces readers to many historic characters, weaving together fictional story lines with dramatic history. For instance, in the crossroads which was Santa Fé of 1846, Burns highlights the life and saloon of the historic character, Doña Gertrudis Barcelό, or "La Tules," as the people of Santa Fé called her. Here, the flavors of the Old West and Spanish cultures combine to take readers on a whirlwind adventure and romance, the backdrop of which is the Mexican-American War, 1846-48.
Moving on from Santa Fé, newly-wed Frank Cooke experienced the early days of the Gold Rush in California, in the chapter which explains, "How the White Man Took the Land...Again!" Working his claim, Cooke becomes a very wealthy man, who nevertheless experiences the dangers of vigilante law. He and his entourage of Native Americans, Mestizos and Chinese eventually retrace his original route back to the southern San Andreas valley. There, he and his family settle by a river they humbly name the Cooke River, creating the town of Cookesville.
This California central valley city embodies the struggles that ran strong as the state of California came to life in 1850, bypassing the process of organizing as a territory and racing to become a free-soil state. Encompassing lands which paralleled both the previously delineated North and South during the antebellum period, it became an instant combination of numerous races, mixed faces and outlooks. The passions which typify the goals of each ethnicity can be witnessed in its early development. Paradoxically, the spirits of the Old South and the Antebellum North compete on this western soil.
The result of these equal but opposite visions would lead to violent confrontations. Readers learn the backstory of the peoples who originally settled Cookesville, following their offspring and their relations into the 20th and 21st centuries, along with the influence of new in-migrating peoples. Their red-hot relations and stories are compelling, exciting, exotic and sensual; and though they are fictional, they are solidly based upon real characters. You won't want to miss a single epoch or individual story line. Cookesville exemplifies not only how the West was won, but how the spirit of survivalism was essential in uniting cultures-on a local and national level.
In "Cookesville, USA", Sarah Burns has done what all great historians do -- show us that the past is alive and well and living right here in the present. In fact, the wonderful/terrible truth about Cookesville, California (which is Ms. Burns's pen name for a real life city located about 100 miles north of Los Angeles) is that not much has changed since its founding back in the nineteenth century. In exquisite and moving detail, Ms. Burns teaches us exactly what put the "wild" into the Wild West -- lots of sex, money, compassion, brutality and a powerful heartfelt belief that the American Dream could be made real. "Cookesville, USA" is a beautifully grand story. Although California of 1851 might feel like a John Ford movie while Cookesville of 1961 reads more like Raymond Chandler, altogether it defines an identity that is uniquely American -- that we are a land of both scoundrels and heroes and we're not entirely sure which ones deserve our deepest affections. Peter S. Freedman: artist/writer