Beyond the Rio Gila

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
375 Pages
Reviewed on 04/26/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite

Beyond the Rio Gila by Scott G. Hibbard is a historical and coming-of-age story that features multidimensional and exquisitely developed characters. The main protagonist is seventeen-year-old Moses Cole who leaves home and walks from the Shenandoah farmland to Pennsylvania and eventually becomes a First Dragoons underage recruit. The adventure follows Private Moses Cole on a journey from Virginia to San Diego and back, a tale of loss, friendship, humanity, and love—it is enriched by the humor, the encounters with different characters, and shared humanity among characters of diverse cultures and backgrounds.  

The story evokes strong elements of history, especially the Mormon Battalion from Council Bluffs to San Diego in 1846 to 1847 during the Mexican-American War. Against an unforgiving, historical backdrop, the author brings to life a story that features immigrants, the effects of religious persecution on a pregnant woman, a drunk intellectual, and many others. The narrative is a story of adventure, love, and the resilience of the human spirit, told in a captivating voice and exploring the beauty of human intercourse, the balm of humor, and the hidden joys of perseverance. The writing is crisp and it reflects the cultural background of the characters, with dialogues that capture both the intelligence and the way the characters think and speak. The witticism and insights infused into the conversations had me delighted as I read from one gripping page to the next. Beyond the Rio Gila is not just a historical novel; it is classic, a well-crafted story with sophisticated characters, a smartly written plot, and humor that sinks its teeth to the very core of the reader. You will love Scott G. Hibbard’s characters, his attention to detail when it comes to the setting, and his exceptional ability to write scenes that feel real to readers.

K.C. Finn

Beyond The Rio Gila is a work of fiction in the historical genre. It is aimed at all ages and was penned by author Scott G. Hibbard. The book features a wide cast of characters making a perilous expedition during the great days of the American frontier. Made up of a rag-tag collection of soldiers and Mormons, all with their reasons for wanting to leave civilized society behind them, the convoy must journey across the southwestern parts of America to strike out for themselves in the emerging new world. But between the dangers of the landscape and the problems they carry with them, not all will arrive at the destination in one piece.

Author Scott G. Hibbard has crafted a superb work of fiction that takes its readers along with acute detail of every harrowing moment of this military and survival adventure. One of the things which really impressed me about the storytelling was the choice to include a good balance of soldier and civilian life, which gives a fully rounded picture of events and really adds to the ongoing drama, intrigue, and building storylines amid different characters. It was clear that the author’s personal experience added to the realism of the piece, particularly in the physical, visceral details of how hard and rough the way of life was in everything from manual labor to actual labor! Overall, I would highly recommend Beyond The Rio Gila for fans of western settings and military tales, but also those interested in the very human journey of making one’s way in a difficult and dangerous world.

Joel R. Dennstedt

Beyond the Rio Gila is a highly literate piece of compelling historical fiction by Scott G. Hibbard. The exquisite prose employed to tell the gritty, fascinating, hardscrabble story of a dragoon company’s march to the coast in the early to mid-1800s – from Missouri to the Pacific, with a Mexican War along the way – and the parallel journey of a similar group of Mormons conscripted into service, lends an incredibly authentic voice to this intrepid tale, often with the same endearing tone heard in documentaries replicating field missives sent home to families by lonely but enduring Civil War soldiers. Hibbard’s resonant writing shares the same feeling of independent spirit molded by self-sufficient dwellers of isolated farms and outlying towns, yet is often spiced with the eloquence of ancient intellectuals found inhabiting prized literary collections, which infuses this highly unique novel with both historical accuracy and a profound sense of vivid immediacy.

Moses Cole is the young and fiercely self-protective protagonist of Beyond the Rio Gila, and Scott G. Hibbard writes him as precisely and penetratingly as any biographically significant historical figure, many of whom also populate this accurate recording of a life-affirming/life-denying martial odyssey. That he is barely into manhood – as defined by a pioneering age – and burdened with a background both abusive and inviting, allows the enthralled reader to watch as a youth becomes an adult, as innocence becomes loss, and a boy becomes the man destined to face both his abusive past and ever-beckoning future. A wonderful and complex historical recollection.

Grant Leishman

Beyond the Rio Gila by Scott G. Hibbard is a sweeping historical tale of the early west and the Mexican–American war that took place during the 1840s as the great American continent was being explored and settled, often by those seeking sanctuary from persecution, such as the Saints of the newly-established Mormon Church. Moses Cole was just a young teen when he left the family farm in Virginia, blamed by his abusive father for the untimely death of his mother and her unborn son. Bound for where, Moses had no idea but when a passing traveler directed him toward an army recruiting station, Moses soon found himself part of the US Army and a Dragoon. Moses and his best comrade, the smooth-talking, highly educated, and literary Private Abner Black, are soon off with the Dragoons on a monumental journey across the breadth of America, much of it in uncharted territory, to engage the Mexican Army in places like New Mexico and California. Along the way, Moses and Abner will meet up with a most unlikely bunch of soldiers; recruits from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who are fleeing persecution and a massacre of their brethren in Missouri. They are seeking peace and a place to call their own, unmolested by bigots and religious intolerance. Into the vast unknown, these greenhorn soldiers go to face privations and trials that we can only imagine.

Beyond the Rio Gila is a story that attempts to catch the emotions and the natures of the men that set out to make America one united country; ordinary men who would face extraordinary trials in their stint in the army of the West. Scott G. Hibbard made an inspired choice in pairing the two main characters of Moses, a fairly naïve and uneducated farm boy, with Abner, a world-worn and well-read character who had some fatal flaws, including a fondness for the bottle. The interaction between these two characters and the impact each had on the other's life and perception was an absolute highlight of the tale for me. This isn’t to take away at all from the colorful characters who comprised the volunteer army of Latter-Day Saints. The author did a magnificent job of allowing the reader to empathize deeply with these gentle souls who sought nothing more than to find a land of their own, where they could practice their albeit strange and new religion without fear of persecution. The character of these men, who willingly put themselves into harm's way and likely privation and death, for their God and their leader Brigham Young, was beautifully captured. The descriptive prose is captivating and the language and mannerisms of the men authentic and believable. If true, hard-hitting historical adventure stories are your passion, then this is absolutely the book for you. If you like a good rollicking yarn, then Beyond the Rio Gila will do the trick just fine. I thoroughly enjoyed this read and can highly recommend it.

Rabia Tanveer

Beyond the Rio Gila by Scott G. Hibbard is a coming-of-age story of a young boy who learns that maturity comes at a price. Set in 1844, the story follows the trials and tribulations of Moses Cole as he weathers the storm of hardships that almost bring him to his knees. As the son of an abusive farmer, Moses doesn’t have many aspirations in life. But circumstances bring him to the First Dragoons of the U.S Army. He joins the First Dragoons even if he is underage. While he finally gets a mentor that is ready to teach him, the battle is his to fight. Moses will have to face loss, devastating consequences, and hardships unlike any others he has ever faced before. If he thought living with his father was bad enough, he has no idea what the life of a private in the military has in store for him. Does he have what it takes to succeed in the military?

I do know a little bit about the American-Mexican War, and the efforts of the US Army to bring California into the folds of the country. Scott G. Hibbard does justice to the historical aspects of the story and makes sure it remains a vital part of the plot. The setting and the background are perfectly in synch with the historical timeline. Moses’s character, his development, and his journey to maturity all reflect well in the story. The narrative is the highlight of the story for me. The descriptive imagery perfectly visualizes every aspect of Moses’s life. From the opening scene to the ending scene between Moses and his father George, each scene is vivid and sticks in the minds of readers. There is strength in the narrative, a presence of power that grabs the attention of readers. I enjoyed it! Beyond the Rio Gila is perfect for readers who enjoy historical fiction.