April 3, 2013

In their Own Words

By Brandon Marie Miller

[Activity: Make a Quill Pen]

Let me introduce you to my new book for young adult and adult readers, and it’s all about women—Women of the Frontier, 16 Tales of Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs and Rabble-Rousers.

One of the joys of writing history is finding a person’s story in their own words. Letters, journals, diaries and autobiographies provide emotional backbone, immediacy of time and place, and details a researcher can discover nowhere else. Luckily, many women heading West in the 19th century willingly grabbed their pens and wrote about their experiences.

Women of the Frontier describes the journey west, creating a home, women’s work, fun diversions, and female social activism, adding more spice and details through 16 mini biographies.

Here is a sampling of some western women in their own words.

Amelia Stewart Knight, 1853, the Oregon Trail.“Shame on the man who has no pity for the poor, dumb brutes [her oxen] that have to travel month after month on this desolate road. I could hardly help shedding tears, when we drove round this poor ox who had helped us along thus far and has given us his very last step.”

Miriam Davis Colt, 1856, part of a vegetarian community gone wrong in Kansas. Miriam found shortened dresses with bloomers, “well suited to a wild life like mine. Can bound over the prairies like an antelope and am not in so much danger of setting my clothes on fire while cooking when these prairie winds blow….”

Frances Grummond
Am. Heritage Center - U. of Wy.
Frances Grummond, Army wife in Wyoming, 1866. After her husband’s near escape from a skirmish: “No sleep came to my weary eyes, except fitfully, for many nights, and even then in my dreams I could see him riding madly from me with the Indians in pursuit.”

Luzena Stanley Wilson, California Gold Rush, 1849. “The flour we used was often soured and from a single sieve-full I have sifted out a…handful of long black worms. The butter was brown from age and had spent a year on the way out to California.”

Bethenia Owens-Adair -
Oregon Historical Society

Bethenia Owens-Adair, uneducated and married at 14, divorced with a baby at 16, became a medical school trained physician in Oregon. “Nothing was permitted to come between me and this [her education], the greatest opportunity of my life.”

Lotta Crabtree, actress / singer. “I do wish that a man of a little sense would admire me for once.”

Carry Nation, anti-alcohol crusader. “I like to go just as far as the farthest. I like my religion like my oysters and beefsteak—piping hot!”

Rachel Parker Plummer, held captive by the Comanche for 21 months, 1836. “He reached out his hands toward me, which were covered with blood, and cried, ‘Mother, Mother, oh, Mother!’ I looked after him as he was borne from me, and I sobbed aloud. This was the last I ever heard of my little Pratt [her 17 month-old son].”

Susette La Flesche
Nebraska Historical Society
Susette La Flesche, Omaha woman, Native American activist. “When the Indian, being a man and not a child or a thing, or merely an animal, as some would-be civilizers have termed him, fights for his property, liberty, and life, they call him a savage.”

So make a quill pen and grab a bottle of ink—or a sharpened pencil, or even your laptop—and write about your own adventures and memories. Future historians will thank you!

Activity from George Washington for Kids, His Life and Times

1 comment:

  1. The summaries whet the appetite to read the whole book, yet they work as a very nice stand alone column too. The quill pen activity is a great idea to encourage readers to write about their own lives. Nicely done, Brandon Marie!