Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Women Who Conquered the West by Velda Brotherton

Velda Brotherton,
Women Who 
the West

Women from all manner of families went West after the Civil War, when a great influx of wagon trains snaked along the trails, some extending a mile or more. The Oregon Trail, the California and Cherokee and Santa Fe Trails, all carried hopeful emigrants to their new life on the frontier. While most women were young, both married and unmarried, many were accompanied by their mothers and fathers.

It is well known that the youngest fared the best. They found ways to have fun, many of them walked almost the entire way, only climbing in the wagons at night to sleep. The men slept under the wagons. Usually a large train could make only about five to eight miles per day, where some lone wagons might do better—if they weren't singled out for attack by wandering Indians. However, far fewer Indian attacks took place than are portrayed in the movies.

Adolph Roenigh wrote for the Kansas State Historical Society of an Indian raid in 1869 the year after the Union Pacific Railroad, Eastern Division opened for business. Indians had broken out of Ft. Supply, probably Cheyenne, but he doesn't say, and about 40 of them passed by the small settlement of Russell, Kansas and began tearing up the railroad spikes and ties and setting them on fire. It is difficult to tell from his report whether the white men shot first or the Indians, but quite a battle ensued in which the white men were penned down in what he called the main dugout. There lived the boarding boss and his wife and it also served as a dining room.  When the train came, the engineer did not understand that a bale of hay burning in the center of the track meant he should slow down, and the engine ran into the ditch where the tracks were torn up.

It's not unusual that women were mentioned only in passing by men when they wrote reports. That's just the way the West was in the early days. Oft times women were not even known by their name, but became Mrs. John Smith from their wedding day till a headstone was erected over them in a cemetery.

Fortunately, women tended to keep diaries and journals, and many of these have been published. So we can learn more about these courageous women. While we tend to picture the large Conestoga style wagons and long trains as being the only conveyance into the wilderness of the West, many women followed their friends and family by taking a stagecoach. The pioneer stage from coast to coast was said to be the Vermont Sanderson.

Carrie Stearns Smith wrote "The stage swung around a corner with a great circling sweep of eight white horses, accoutered in all of harness and ornaments that could catch the sun and the eye...we were all listed and crowded in—wedged would better express the arrangement. The driver cracked his whip and away dashed the beautiful horses."

For her full story of that trip, read Pioneer Women: Voices From the Kansas Frontier by Joanna L. Stratton. The book is filled with stories about women told by women, and is a treasure.

Though the Internet is my main source of research, I still look for books like this which I can read and study at my leisure. I often run across some obscure fact that I would never search for online, and which I can use in my books.

For more stories of women in the West ranging from California to Wyoming, check out The Adventures of The Woman Homesteader: The Life and Letters of Elinore Pruitt Stewart by Susanne K. George.

Elinore was half-Chickasaw, born at White Bead Hill West of Pauls Valley in Indian Territory in 1876. Her mother died in 1893 bearing her ninth child. Elinore's story spans a life lived fully and well. She and her husband homesteaded in Wyoming. Elinore became a published writer in 1911 or 1912 when the Atlantic Monthly published her first letters telling about her life.

In the popular cowpuncher book, We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a Cowpuncher, written by E.C. Abbott, known as Teddy Blue, he writes of women and their existence on the Montana ranch owned by Granville Stuart. Teddy courted Granville's daughter Mary. He writes that the Stuart girls were half-breeds but they had every advantage that could be offered at the time. A schoolteacher lived at the D H S ranch for the Stuart and Anderson children growing up there.

The popularity of Indian women for wives, he explains, was that obedience was highly favored by Indians and the women learned early in life to be obedient to the men, and that's why white men searched them out and were so happy married to them.

I wrote that as Teddy Blue referred to people of his time, because that's the way it was in 1886 when he was cowpunching.

These are just a small example of the women who went West to build a new life. Women who suggest to this writer just how strong, courageous and faithful the characters I write about must be.

My western historical romances about gutsy women who won the West, are all available on Kindle. You can find a complete listing on my Amazon author page, or visit me at my website or blog.

Wilda's Outlaw: 
The Victorians
Dec. 5 thru 9

Leave a comment and be in a drawing for an ebook copy of Stone Heart's Woman, and don't forget that Wilda's Outlaw is free Dec 5 thru 9 on Kindle, courtesy of my publisher, The Wild Rose Press. It will then be available there for $2.99 until the print version is released in Feb. 2013.


  1. Thanks Jacquie, It looks great and I'm so honored to be asked to appear on Romancing the West. Such great posts.

    1. I'm so glad you could stop by, Velda! It's always great to have you here, and I wish you best of luck with Wilda's Outlaw. It's in my TBR pile (folder, actually).

  2. Velda, I agree that women were overlooked in the West. One of my friends was doing genealogy and couldn't find the name of a female ancestor. Even on her tombstone, she is listed by Mrs. John Smith. Sad not to be your own person even in death. I love reading the memoirs and diaries of pioneer women. Some are heartbraking, and they are all eye-opening.

  3. Caroline, thanks for visiting this site and commenting. We'll draw tomorrow for the winner of my book. Have a great weekend.

  4. The farther west you go (or maybe I should say the farther away from the east you get), the more you hear about the women. They weren't nearly as anonymous in the Pacific Northwest. One book I loved was Malinda Jenkins' book, A Gambler's Wife. Now there was one strong woman, and she wasn't either a goody-two-shoes or a whore, which are the only kinds of women we ever read about.

  5. It is so interesting to ready about women of those times. They had to be so strong just living there, but raising families, keeping the fields plowed and wash done and the cooking. All when the men sometimes were "in town." We cannot complain in this century with all the modern things we have. Can't wait to read more.


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