Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter 2009, pp. 000-000
In 1993 federal government agents besieged and then attacked the compound of buildings at Mount Carmel, outside of Waco, Texas, that housed members of a religious movement called the Branch Davidians (a splinter group of the Seventh-day Adventists), led by Vernon Howell, who renamed himself David Koresh. Catherine Wessinger, a noted scholar of cults or new religions, has produced much of the essential scholarship that has appeared in the wake of the Waco disaster. This book is part of her ongoing contribution to our understanding of Waco.
Wessinger interviewed Bonnie Haldeman extensively in 2004, resulting in the present volume, which includes fifty-five pages of endnotes containing copious information. Reading the autobiography and endnotes together provides a crash course on what happened at Waco. Halderman speaks as a Texas woman, born in 1944 to poor people and living most of her life as one of those poor herself. She had an eighth-grade education until midlife, when she attended nursing school. She was familiar with Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and practices but usually orbited just beyond them until her son became an avid practitioner of a radicalized splinter group from that tradition. She delighted in spending time with children and grandchildren, eating good food, getting a decent shower or bath, having enough money to pay the bills, keeping her husband (if possible) from drinking too much and physically abusing her, and enjoying the friendship of other women, both older and younger than herself. Her values were those of someone of her time and place: work hard, save money, raise children with discipline and love, do the best you can to overcome adversity, learn to live without the luxuries of life but be grateful for those you have.