Thank you for reading Denver City Justice. This Book Club guide includes questions that are aimed at enriching your discussion and help your group find diverse topics of discussion.
Researching the history and stories in Denver City Justice is one of author J.v.L. Bell’s favorite things to do. For book discussion groups, here are some discussion topics to start your meeting:
- How much of the history in Denver City Justice had you heard about before? The Denver Flood? The Musgrove lynching? The Hungate Massacre? The Sand Creek Massacre? What key historical events do you think shaped Colorado?
- As far as I know, the US government broke every treaty it ever made with Native Americans. Colorado was home to Ute, Arapaho, Apache, Cheyenne and other Native American tribes, yet the only reservations in the state are for the Ute tribes in Southern Colorado. Do you feel Colorado, or the US government, should still be making reparations to Native American Tribes? Why or why not?
Book Club Questions
- Widow Ferris has an Irish wake where friends and neighbors spend the evening telling stories about her. This wake was inspired by my grandmother’s funeral. How have rituals around death changed over time? What rituals around death are unique to your family?
- Buttercup, the fainting goat, is my comic relief in my stories and I do have fun with her, but fainting goats really existed. What do you think is the origin of fainting goats and why were they deliberately bred?
- Millie’s attitude toward Native Americans arcs through the story, changing from fear to friendship and understanding. Are her attitudes realistic for a woman of that time? How do you overcome being uncomfortable with people who look or behave differently? Are there ways you try to accept their different traditions and attitudes? Do you seek these kinds of people out or avoid them?
- Brother Bunce quotes the Bible and refers to books that were written during the pre-Civil War time period to justify slavery. When has the Bible been used as support or opposition to a specific issue?
- Lynching was not uncommon in Colorado during the 1860’s and 1870’s. If you had lived in a rough boom-and-bust town like Denver, how would you have responded to the lawlessness and crime? Would you have supported vigilante law and lynching? Why or why not?
- At her wake, Widow Ferris wanted “fine foods” served, “no bear, catamount, and especially no porcupine.” What is catamount? When you throw a party, what do you consider as “fine food?” What kinds of foods would you never serve?
- Millie’s attitude toward childbirth and children is very modern, but many women did die during childbirth. What are your stories from childbirth? If you had lived in the 1860’s, would you have wanted children?
- In the book, the 1864 Denver City flood is described historically accurately, and the Smith family did miraculously survive. Have you heard other stories of tragedy where someone survived against all odds? What experiences have you had?
- Millie breaks Dom out of jail to save his life. Do you think it is ever okay to break the law? When and why?
- While writing Denver City Justice, author J.v.L Bell struggled with portraying accurate language and attitudes of 1864 while writing for a modern audience. How historically accurate can an author be and when does unacceptable historical labels and racist attitudes cross a line and make a book unenjoyable?