Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird is a remarkable story written by a gifted author. For anyone unfamiliar with the historical figure Cathy Williams, she was a former slave who hid her gender to enlist and serve as Private William Cathay in the 9th Cavalry (the famed Buffalo Soldiers) in the aftermath of the Civil War.
Little is known of her life so it took someone with a great imagination to fill in the gaps. She begins by establishing Cathy Williams’ pride in her African heritage. It will be her strength in all that she endures as a slave, as a contraband who follows the Union Army and serves as a cook for General Philip Sheridan until the war’s end, and as the only woman to have ever fought the Apache on the Texas frontier in an all male unit.
Were the character not plucked from the annals of history, the notion that a woman could hide her femininity over a two-year enlistment period from her fellow soldiers would be incredulous. We know that she in fact did, but pause to consider the lack of privacy she faced living in a barracks with nothing but men or while on patrol in an unforgiving terrain, all the while having to prove herself equal to her counterparts. How did she do it?
It is a testament to Sarah Bird’s imagination that she is able to provide plausible explanations and even weave a credible love story into the mix. I absolutely loved her description of this period in history. The dialogue is spot on and her characters are flesh and blood people who actually lived or who seamlessly interact with those that did. This is historical fiction at its best.
Sarah Bird establishes Cathy Williams as a heroine that few will have known anything about before reading her novel, but who will resonate and remain with them long after the last sentence in the book has been read.