Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel

I can hear the moans now – is she not bored of reading about pioneer women yet? Answer – no! I am still learning so much and absolutely loving it! The latest book about pioneer women I read is an exploration of women’s diaries and what they tell us about those who travelled the westward trails across America to Oregon and California in the 1840s and 1850s. Unlike the previous book I read, Pioneer Women, this doesn’t detail life as a pioneer, but merely the journey embarked upon in order to start the pioneer life and the difficulties and hardships these women and their families endured as they spent up to 8 months on the road travelling to the promised fertile lands, open spaces and sparkling coastline of the Pacific Ocean states.

Lillian Schlissel analysed the diaries to find patterns and common experiences among the nearly 100 women’s diaries she had access to, and two facts particularly struck me; the first, that the vast majority of women had no desire whatsoever to leave their homes and families and go West, but their husbands made the decision to go, and they had no choice but to follow; and the second, that one in five women on the Westward trail was either pregnant or gave birth at some point on the journey. So, not only did most women not want to go to California or Oregon at all, but a large minority of them were also having to ride in a constantly jolting wagon, walk for miles, endure the baking hot and freezing cold weather, often mind other small children (it wasn’t unusual for women to travel with families of up to 10 children), help with gathering twigs and food and buffalo chips, wade through swamps, ride across raging rivers in canoes, scramble up mountainsides, and sleep in the open air, all while heavily pregnant. I don’t think I’ll be complaining about having to walk six avenues to get to my subway stop again, that’s for sure.

So many stories were told throughout these diaries, and I was fascinated by how dangerous and difficult the trip across the majority of the United States really was. Some women noted how many roadside graves of fellow travellers they passed during a given day – sometimes it would be as many as 50. Cholera was a particular danger on the Westward trail, killing rapidly and sparing hardly any of its sufferers. On the road, with no medicine, no doctors, and little access to clean water or protection from the elements, death was ever present. Childbirth was another common killer; there was no time to give women a break from the incessant onward march after they had given birth, and infections and exhaustion carried many women off, often along with their newborns. Most would-be pioneers travelled in large groups of wagons, supporting each other and providing safety as they trundled through Indian country, swam their cattle across rivers, and lowered wagons down mountainsides. However, a seemingly healthy and happy band of wagons could be decimated within hours; by drowning as they attempted to cross rivers, by cholera, by other illnesses, by accidents – this especially affected children, who could easily fall out of wagons and get run over, or fall into the path of stampeding buffalo, or, most frighteningly, by sudden Indian attacks. It was rare for a group who had started their journey together to arrive at their destination intact, and many groups separated along the way if people fell behind due to illness or accident. Many women were widowed or lost children during the journey, but there was no time or opportunity to grieve or grow despondent; speed was of primary importance, and the wagon train must press on to their destination, before the winter set in or before they were made vulnerable to marauding Indians.

I was just in awe of the stories I read. Women used to keeping nice houses and being in a close knit community of friends and family suddenly found themselves packing and unpacking wagons, driving cattle, rowing across rivers, climbing up mountains, roaming prairies looking for food and fuel, cooking over an open fire, nursing dying friends and relatives, sleeping in the open air and bargaining with Indians on a daily basis for months on end. Considering that most of the women doing this had no desire to be on the journey whatsoever, and had only the prospect of an empty field when they got to their journey’s end, their bravery and tenacity was absolutely incredible. In order to get through the trials of the road and to replace the communities they had left behind them, women forged close bonds with other women in their wagon trains, and they provided much needed support and friendship for one another. They shared the cooking and childcare amongst themselves, gossiped, exchanged recipes and tips for keeping children occupied, helped to nurse each other’s sick, supported each other in grief, and also provided the much more basic function of ensuring privacy and decency when they needed to relieve themselves or give birth in the open. One woman wrote how sad she was when their wagon had to go on without that of her friend’s, and she was so miserable that in the end her husband agreed to join another company of wagons with women in it, so that his wife could have someone to talk to. A woman alone on the trail with a band of men was a lonely one indeed.

I could go on for ages about how wonderful this book is – the insights and stories and photographs are just incredible. Reading about these pioneer women has made me think of whether we really do understand women’s roles during the 19th century as accurately as we think. While these women did obviously have to submit to the will of their husbands, the respect and support given to them by their husbands while they were on the trail, and the equally necessary practical and labour intensive roles they took both on the journey and when they were settled in their smallholdings, has made me question the common trope of the repressed, housebound woman in the 19th century. These women were middle to lower class, often educated, married, with children – and yet they were entreprenurial, practically skilled, and had plenty of opportunities to work and support their families, which they largely seem to have enjoyed.

As a comparison, though this is slightly later, many people have been discussing Persephone’s Round About A Pound A Week at the moment, and the women in these London slums at the turn of the century were certainly not stuck at home doing needlepoint either, but were very much an economical necessity for their families, working to boost the family income as well as keeping house and caring for children, day in day out. While perhaps the work they undertook was not by choice, neither was that of their husbands – they did what they had to do to support their families, and their husbands treated them, by and large, with respect and equality, as did the communities they lived within. So where were these repressed, housebound women so favoured by feminist scholars as symbols of male subordination in the 19th century? Certainly not on the American Frontier, nor in the London slums. It seems that only the wealthy were in this position, and as only the wealthy had the luxury to write novels, we have perhaps had our points of view of women during this period skewed. The intelligence, capability and mutually supportive marriages I have read about in the lives of pioneer women has made me doubt a lot of what I had previously assumed about women’s lives, historically. Considering the tiny proportion of the wealthy, and the largely disproportionate amount of information we have about their lives compared to that of the working classes, it’s something that bears thinking about. Another PhD topic added to my raidly growing list to pursue…one magical day when I have both money and time to go back to university!

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52 comments

  1. A fascinating book, which I now want to read! Those women were certainly subordinated to men in that they had to travel west, even though they had no wish to! Your story of what they had to endure has certainly given me an interest. When the offspring were young, we loved a picture book called ‘Going West’ by Phillipe Dupasquier. This definitely takes it to a new level!

    I have Round about A Pound a Week, I’m glad to say, so I don’t have to wrestle with my conscience about whether to splash out on it! You are SO bad for my dwindling finances! :) You make everything sound so interesting! And we have such similar tastes! :)

    1. Glad to hear it Penny – your library might have it?! ;)

      Yes – that level of subordination was there – but then, at the same time, today that would still happen – if your husband got a great job but you had to move in order for him to take it, I wonder how many wives would say no, even if they had a lot of misgivings about it?

      That picture book sounds adorable – I didn’t realise before I got here how much the ‘pioneer’ spirit was such a mythical part of America and so well detailed in children’s books etc. I think you’d find these diaries really interesting, Penny – and Jane probably would too – if you shared it that makes it totally worth buying surely?! ;) Glad you have Round About a Pound a Week – I do too but I haven’t read it yet!

  2. Rachel, I found a hardback copy for £1.85, free postage, on amazon! How could I resisit??? :)

    Hmm… I know what you mean. But if I were pregnant and it was dangerous, I’d expect it to be a joint decision. Tricky one!

    I see there’s another book about mail order brides… Tempting… :)

    1. Oh Penny! That was an absolute bargain! No one could resist that ! :) SO pleased you’ll be able to read and enjoy this too!

      Oh yes – pregnancy was no barrier to such a journey apparently – I suppose the risk of dying was so high anyway – regardless of whether you were at home or on the road – that it wasn’t really a reason to delay.

      Ha! I bet that would be interesting!

  3. Another great review, Rachel.
    A friend of mine has a wooden dresser, three drawers or so. It is from her husband’s side of the family. A great, great aunt or grandmother who, as a young mother, made the journey, in a wagon trail, from the east to Kansas City to meet up with her husband and the journey further west. She already had several children. Conditions were such that the only thing left of their worldly possessions by the time the caravan reached Kansas City was a chest of drawers. She arrived to find her husband had died before she ever got there. The chest of drawers gets handed down from generations, as does the story.

    Rachel, I may have mentioned this one before, so, if I have, forgive me. I think you would appreciate The Road from Coorain by Jill Kerr Conway. It is her story, growing up in Australia, the injustices to women when widowed, and her education. She became the first woman president of Smith College. She and her husband had an interesting approach to sharing each other’s career goals, as well as their lives.
    I can’t wait to hear about your Ph. D. topic.

    1. Thanks Penny! What an amazing story – I’d love to have such history, and a wonderful physical reminder of it, in my own family.

      I don’t think you have mentioned that book before – it sounds absolutely fascinating and I’ll have to check it out!

      I can’t wait to do my PhD – you might be waiting a very long time to hear though!

  4. Oh my God if my husband decided to take me across the frontier I would divorce him. I know they couldn’t just do that so easily back then, but I am furious on those women’s behalf. It’s all very well for them to be brave and fierce about it, but mercy, I couldn’t have done it. I could barely make my oxen survive through the Oregon Trail game.

    1. Oh me too. I would have laid in front of the wagon and been all passive aggressive about it. No way would I have done that journey. I hate camping so much and doing the trail was basically 8 months of extreme camping. Hell on earth!

  5. I am inspired to read this, it sounds wonderful – if frightenly graphic. It seems to me that, in a way, the Natural Selection or Survival of the Fittest rule worked here to make their descendants the kind of tough people they are. Tough and proud and rightly so. But I haven’t forgotten that dreadful bad luck also played a part.

    I remember a BBC programme about this subject and the image that remains in my mind is of a pioneer child finding a skull on a rubbish heap left behind by travellers who had to just carry on regardless.

    I have renewed respect for Americans now. In the cities or moving across the plains, they were the bravest and most determined folk imaginable.

    Thanks again, Rachel.

    1. Fantastic, Chrissy – I am certain you would love it!

      Yes there does seem to be an element of survival of the fittest about it – it certainly must have separated the wheat from the chaff!

      It does leave you with a renewed sense of awe and respect when you learn about the hardships these people faced to make the world what it is today – it’s just incredible to think what they coped with. Could I do the same? I don’t think so.

      Glad you enjoyed reading the review Chrissy!

  6. My husband joined the US Air Force almost 16 years ago and we’ve made 6 major moves in that time (with another possible move next year, sigh). As much as I hate the moving, it pales in comparison to what these women went through. I think I need to read this book before the next move to gain a little more perspective! I am always happy to live in the 21st century.

    Round About a Pound a Week is one of the Persephones available at the local college library so hopefully I’ll get to it before the aforementioned move. I’ve now finished 25 Persephones (26 if you count Miss Buncle, Married which they’re reissuing in April), so I have quite a few to go. I do feel like I’m making some progress with the list.

    1. Oh you should definitely read this – you’ll think yourself lucky as you’re packing that removal van! I do sympathise though – I’ve moved five times in four years – one of those being from the UK to the US – and I HATE moving with a passion. That’s just moving my own stuff though – moving a family is something else!

      Hope you get the copy of Round About a Pound a Week soon. I have it back in England and I’m looking forward to reading it when I get back home. My interest in women’s social history has skyrocketed lately and I can’t get enough of these sorts of chronicles of women’s lives.

      1. Rachel, I have a book called “She was aye workin’ ” which is “memories of tenement women in Glsgow and Edinburgh”. It’s a fascinating look at the lives of working class women (‘aye’, in this instance, translates as ‘always’). You should try to get a hold of it and I’ll be your translater, if you need one! :)

      2. I’d love to read that Penny! I think I might need you sitting with me though – I’d never have guessed that aye meant again!

  7. I read this book a few years ago. I agree it was fascinating! And such a good fit for your pioneer/prairie obsession. Glad you came across this book.

    1. I’m glad we are in agreement! Thank you – it was such a gem and so interesting to read about the actual journey to the pioneer states as well as the experience of being a pioneer.

  8. Those poor women feeling as though they had no choice in the matter. I would have been tempted to hightail it out of there the first night at camp and hope they went on without me! As depressing as it sounds, death may not have been unwelcome knowing the little they had to look forward to…does that sound awful?

    Have you started carrying your lunch to work in a little red handkerchief tied up on a stick yet?

    1. Oh yes – I’d have been out of the there after one night in the open I think! That doesn’t sound awful – I think dying of cholera would be preferable to a life of such hardship myself, but the good thing is that most of the women, despite what they suffered, kept their spirits up and seemed to think that the trip was worth it. The rates of disease and death in childbirth and infant mortality were so high anyway that I suppose the trip wasn’t really to blame for killing off kids and adults as they could have just as well have died at home.

      Hahahahahaha I could imagine me getting on the subway with my little sad face and my running away bundle over my shoulder!

  9. Thanks for this fascinating review. Not only does the book sound very much worth reading, but I especially appreciate the questions that you have raised about the relationships and mutual respect between husbands and wives that was evident from the diaries.

    1. You are so welcome Linda! Thank you – my readings about pioneer women have really made me think about accepted notions of women’s lives in the 19th century which I have found absolutely fascinating!

  10. Thank you for the great review, Rachel! You are teaching me so much about women’s lives on the American frontier. What I know of the Oregon Trail largely comes out of playing Oregon Trail on the computer when I was a kid; lots of people died in that game from dysentery from what I can remember, so it seems like they tried for a bit of accuracy according to what you write here. Have you heard of The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman, Jr.? I hadn’t until I saw it in a list of books of Oxford World’s Classics. Its synopsis sounds interesting: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199553921.do?keyword=oregon+trail&sortby=bestMatches .

    I think the female nineteenth century stereotype you are talking about refers to women of the middle-class, especially the upper-middle-class, mostly in Britain (I don’t know much about a woman’s role in the US). In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the middle class rose in prominence in Britain, and one of the ways it defined itself from the lower-class was by having a wife at home in the private sphere with at least one servant for the home. Of course, if one only had one servant, then the mistress would have to do a lot of housework, but the upper-middle-class had more than one; an upper-middle-class woman’s life was defined partially, then, by not doing housework and staying within the home. All of this might be incorrect, but I’ve been doing some reading on this subject lately, and this is what I’ve gathered. My guess is that these women had somewhat of a voice because they were educated, so they wrote novels, articles, etc. about their experiences; other women of other classes would have had less of a voice, so we do not hear about them as much. Of course, other women in other situations and countries would have had different lives and expectations made of them. My other guess is that since many of us see ourselves as of the middle-class today, we see women of the middle-class of the past as our forebears, so we are interested in them and write about them.

    1. I remember playing Oregon Trail! It was in 7th grade. This computer was so old it didn’t even have a screen, it was on a big mainframe with a paper printout. My kids are now playing another game called Oregon Trail but I don’t know if it’s the same one. I was trying to explain the old version and they just stared at me blankly. They didn’t understand the telephone modem hookup either.

    2. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Virginia! It’s great to be able to share all this knowledge I’m picking up – not a lot seems to be read about pioneer women these days. I am intrigued by everyone mentioning ‘Oregon Trail’ – I wonder if I can play it online?! I could see how far I would make it on the frontier! Probably not past the first night!! I haven’t heard of the Parkman book, but it sounds fascinating – I will check it out of the library, thank you for the recommendation!

      Oh yes, the stereotype definitely belongs to the middle classes, and you are right in saying that having a servant was a status symbol and enabled the lady of the house to be freed from such constraints as keeping her house tidy and cooking. Your point about education is also very true – these women were the educated ones and so it is only really their experiences we hear about. I think history in general is very skewed towards the experiences of the ruling classes, and much of what is assumed about our ancestors is really only true for the minority. That’s why I love reading social history so much, as the average Joe is given a voice and a much more realistic picture of everyday life is gained, rather than an idealised version of servants and tea parties that was really only a reality for the privileged. At the same time though, as you say, reading about the middle classes is far more interesting to many people as their lifestyle would be more relevant to our own today. We make our own myths of the past, in a way!

      1. I completely understand your wish to know more about the lives of working class women, and you are not alone in your interest. I don’t know how much work has been done out there on working class women, but while studying history in undergrad, my impression was that social history had been very popular for decades and that it was very “in” to know not just what the politicians and economists were doing in the past but also what the peasants or working class was doing at work and at home.

        At the same time, I don’t think we should not study the middle class, either. Middle class women fought throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries so that women could have the vote and work in the professions. That doesn’t discount the fact that women weren’t already working in the fields and in the factories, but middle class women did open up other fields for women. I do vaguely remember that there was a lot of debate about whether working class women could be included in the fight for the vote and that many did not want them included. My knowledge about that is vague. Yet, even if they did do their work largely for their own class, that doesn’t discount the work they did. I wouldn’t discount middle class women’s experiences, either. After all, their experience is just as much social history as that of the pioneer women crossing the prairies or the wife living in the London slums, just a different experience.

      2. Oh I agree – I think studying the middle classes is entirely necessary and I do greatly enjoy reading about their experiences. However, I think my problem is that middle class/upper class history is used as a general indication of what life was like for most people, and so we have this story of women being repressed and not being able to do anything outside of the home, when really, most women were working and bringing up families, and only repressed by the grinding poverty they lived in. The middle classes had the connections, education and time to campaign for things such as the vote – it’s not that working women didn’t want the vote, it’s just that they didn’t have the ability to campaign for it. History is largely written by the wealthy, and as such, our perceptions have been skewed by their viewpoint of privilege. While it’s great that middle class women campaigned for the right to vote and work, etc, I think it’s important to remember that they didn’t really consider the plight of those women who really needed a voice – the working poor, who had no arena to make their needs heard.

      3. Rachel, I think you are totally valid in your wish to study working class women. You’ve raised a lot of important questions for me like whether working class women were oppressed because of their gender and not just because of their poverty or to what extent the middle class women campaigners for women’s rights excluded the working class. I also wonder whether the middle class woman of the Victorian period is just commonly misperceived as representing all women of the time or whether scholars actually make such a case. You’re absolutely right that we shouldn’t conflate the two, and it was my impression in my history studies that many more people, like you, wanted to study the lives of working class people and bring their stories to light. It sounds like there are lots of topics you could pursue here if you go back to school!

  11. So interesting to hear this about the pioneer women of the 19th century. It does seem that so many of our images of the repressed, housebound woman of the 19th century comes from British literature. And yet we have the American writer Edith Wharton and and her book “House of Mirth.” Lily Bart’s tragic fall came from the fact that she was a woman without the professional opportunities of men and so couldn’t make any money, and also because of the double standard of the time. The taint of scandal that followed her and ruined her would not have happened to a man. What a heartbreaking story that is.

    1. I’m glad you are finding my posts on pioneer women interesting, Domenica! Yes – I think you’re right on British literature playing a big role. Edith Wharton writes about a very select, Europeanised American society, that emulated British class systems and social habits in many ways, so I don’t think she was a particularly ‘American’ writer writing about a quintessential ‘American’ experience. Even so, as you say, her portrayal of women shows how they were trapped and subject to different expectations from men – but again – only upper class women!

  12. I’m really glad you enjoyed the book. I read it aaages ago (when Natalie Merchant used a quote during 10,000 Maniacs Unplugged album; that must have been mid-90s??) but it stayed with me for a long time.

    It was the song on the Unplugged album (Gold Rush Brides) that got me interested in the book and then in the topic itself. I would love to have easy access to all these diaries and letters from these women, displaced by their husbands and by fate.

    I’ve been reading through the comments and would like to say that, though women have more choice, things are easier only slightly. I worked as a teacher in an International school and saw many women lonely and confused in their new settings. The husbands get offered a good job abroad with chances of promotion and a better wage and the women and children often have no choice but to follow. Some countries are more desirable but if your husband decides to go somewhere less desirable, you might not have any choice but to follow. Often they don’t speak the language and feel isolated from the community in which they live. It takes a while to make friends and the loneliness can often be felt radiating from them. It’s easier these days, yes, but it can still be difficult for women.

    1. K, I love the song Gold Rush Brides. I have the Unplugged album too. It is a very evocative song.

      This sounds like a great book. I particularly love the fact that it has photos. I could stare at these pictures for hours.

      And I played Oregon Trail too! I died from cholera all the time. I also kept drowning the oxen. Seriously, that was a clever game. It was fun, but also very eye-opening as to just how dangerous and difficult this travel was.

      1. The photos are great but it would have been nice to have some more! I love seeing the people and the wagons in the flesh as well.

        I just spent an hour playing Oregon Trail online! I made it over 1500 miles before my entire wagon died. :( I was the last to die though!

    2. Thank you! I haven’t heard that song but it’s great that it got you interested in the pioneer women and their stories!

      I agree entirely – women still are expected to go along with their husband’s decisions, especially if their husband is the breadwinner – as often he is – and that can leave them in situations they’d rather not be in, such as in foreign countries where they don’t speak the language, can’t work, and have few friends. I don’t think it’s about subordination – it’s about the fact that men have better paying jobs. That’s the main issue! They are able to contribute more financially as they are paid more and don’t stay home with children, and so their jobs take precedence over their wives’ preferences!

  13. The Oregon Trail game was a staple at our house…I myself always ended up with way too much meat and not enough vegetables. I just liked shooting game.

    I was reminded of LM Montgomery’s many stories about orphans (and unpleasant stepmothers) – of course, with the high rate of childbirth deaths, these shattered families (often with half-siblings that never meet) were a common feature of American society in pioneer days.

    1. The Oregon Trail game is addictive – I just spent an hour playing it! I now know I can hunt along the way so I’ll take more bullets and less food next time so that I can have spare cash to bargain with. AND I won’t attempt to float my wagon across the river by myself – I killed my flatmate doing that!

      Oh yes – you know, I never even thought of that. There are so many orphans in Victorian literature – far from just being a convenient plot, it was actually a common way of life for many children, I suppose. Poor things!

  14. Rachel -

    You would really enjoy a visit to this local museum called the National Ranching Heritage Center, here in Lubbock in West Texas. It’s actual sod houses (and other kinds of houses) that have been saved and reconstructed in their entirety (along with the historically appropriate furniture etc) so you can actually walk in to these homes and see and feel what it was like. It made me very awed about the skills of the early female pioneers – how they did it without bursting into tears about the relentlessness of it all, I don’t know.

    Plus, there was an event at the RHC the other day (which I had to miss unfortunately) which was a one-act play about six women telling their stories of how and why they came to the west using letters, diaries and autobiographies. I wish I had seen it, but it sounds like it’s right up your alley as well.

    National Ranching Heritage Center link:http://www.depts.ttu.edu/ranchhc/

    You and I have such similar literary tastes, and it’s fun to see you experience America in a similar way as I did, many moons ago. (Very different though- I was in the wild west not NYC!)… We still have lots of cowboys, ranches, trucks, cowboy hats, starched Wrangler jeans with ironed creases down the front (cowboys tend to be very tidy in what and how they wear their clothes…!)

    1. Oh Liz! How I wish I was within a reasonable traveling distance to Texas! That museum looks amazing, thank you – I have loved looking at the website!

      I so long to go to the wild west…to gallop on a horse around a ranch would be a dream!! And to meet real cowboys! Oh!!

  15. You really might want to think about coming down here to TX whilst you are in the US. It’s not too far to fly and tickets on SW Airlines are not bad at all if you plan ahead.

    I have done this Cowboy Breakfast event which is two hours up north (but still in Texas) in a huge canyon that is large but is more of a baby sister for the Grand Canyon. (Also another thing to see. Incredible experience and pics don’t do it justice.)

    Here is the link for the Cowboy Breakfast: http://theelkinsranch.com/Movie1.html

    My nephews in CA (both hip skateboarding teenagers) loved it despite themselves. (Their mum is my identical twin sister.) Real cowboys and breakies outside under the TX sky before it gets too hot. Fun.

    1. Oooh cowboy breakfast! I’m going to do my best Liz – but vacation time and money are very tight unfortunately! I’m very much hoping to make it west…but if I don’t then I shall come back another time, definitely!

  16. My dad was born in a sod house on the great plains of central Canada. In fact, he lived in a sod house until the family could import enough wood to build a homestead. He was about seven when they moved into the conventional two story house. He always thought his mother was a saint to live with the conditions she had to put up with. During the time they lived in the sod house, it was torn apart by tornadoes twice…can you imagine?

    1. Wow, what an incredible family history, Pat! Your grandmother must have been a Saint indeed – I could not have put up with that at all! Every story I hear about pioneering women just leaves me in awe!

  17. Rachel -

    Went to a book author reading deal the other day, and found the catalogue for Texas Tech University Press. Looking through its offerings, I immediately thought of you and your interest in pioneer stuff. This has loads of books that you might be interested in. Just FYI.

    (I also bet that if you send the marketing manager an email saying you have this blog and like stuff like they print, they might send you a review copy of something you want. Free! Hooray!) They did for me when I asked for a review copy of a book for a book review column I do here. Very nice people.)

    Website:http://ttupress.org/
    Plus they have a downloadable pdf of their catalogue. Watch your wallet! :-)

  18. Thank you so much for this insightful review – I am going to have to buy this book! Reading your review made me think of Ma, Laura Ingalls mother. How she moved from home to home because of the restlessness of her husband, and how she tried to make everything neat and homely on their travels, despite being far from ‘cilivisation’.

    1. You are so welcome! Yes, it was reading the Little House on the Prairie books for the first time that got me so interested in pioneer stories in the first place…this book is fantastic for demonstrating the real life difficulties behind the often idealised portrait of Ma in the stories. I hope you do buy it – it’s a brilliant read and has some great photos in it too.

  19. I JUST FOUND YOUR WEBSITE… I LOVE TO READ ABOUT PRAIRE/PIONEER WOMEN.. i LIVE IN CENTRAL ILLINOIS, AND WHEN WE DRIVE ACROSS THE OPEN PLAIN, I ALWAYS SAY, IMAGINE IF YOU WERE ON A PRAIRE SCOONER TODAY, IN ALL THIS HEAT, OR ALL THIS WIND… AND THEN I JUST DRIFT AWAY.. IT IS VERY HARD TO FIND BOOKS THAT DO TALK ABOUT WHAT IT WAS LIKE WHEN THEY DID REACH THEIR “SPOT OF HEAVEN”… BLESS YOU FOR FOR TRACKING THESE BOOKS DOWN…PS. MY GREAT GRANDMA WAS ON THE OREGAN TRAIL AND TRADED HER BAKED BREAD FOR MEAT WITH THE INDIANS.

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