Land of Many Hands: Women in the American West

Land of Many Hands: Women in the American West

Land of Many Hands: Women in the American West

Land of Many Hands: Women in the American West

Synopsis

"Come along, come along--don't be alarmed,/Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm."--popular 1852 camp song

From 1840 to 1910, the western region of the United States was the stage for dramatic and often tumultuous encounters between people of diverse cultural backgrounds. This was a period of feverish development of western lands, often with tragic consequences for native peoples as homesteaders encroached upon ancient lands and cultures. American women--Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and European whites--played a prominent role in the migration out West. They raised families, plowed land and planted corn, panned for gold and cleared forests for new homes, opened schools and ran boardinghouses and saloons, became ranchers, missionaries, journalists, peddlers, and trail guides. Women helped to build communities and push the boundaries of the United States to the Pacific.
They came west as homesteaders and teachers, artists and journalists, prostitutes and outlaws, physicians and activists, domestics and nursemaids, and a myriad of other occupations. And wherever they settled they left an indelible mark on the land and on the nation's destiny.
InLand of Many Hands, author Harriet Sigerman uncovers the fascinating stories of women in the American West using primary sources and documents (many never before published). Among the women featured are: Sarah Winnemucca, spokeswoman for the Piutes; women's rights activist Abigail Scott Duniway of Oregon; Narcissa Whitman, missionary to the Cayuse Indians of Oregon; Alice Fletcher, pioneer anthropologist, an advocate for the Omaha and Nez Perc Indians; Mary Elizabeth Blair, an African-American real estate agent; journalists Elizabeth Barstow Stoddard of San Francisco and Charlotte Spears Bass of Los Angeles; Mary Josephine Welch ("Chicago Joe"), proprietor of the Red Light Saloon in Helena, Montana; Mary E. Lease, orator for the populist party; and Mrs. E. J. Guerin ("Mountain Charley"), a trail guide who made her living disguised as a man.

Excerpt

In March 1848, Abigail Malick of Tazewell County, Illinois, set out with her husband, George, and six children for the Oregon Territory. Rumors abounded that the U.S. government would give 640 acres to families who settled the new region. And, indeed, in 1850 Congress passed the Donation Land Act, which granted 640 acres to a settler and his wife after they had lived on and farmed the land for four years. The promise of free farmland beckoned the Malicks and thousands of others to the Pacific Northwest, a region with an abundance of natural resources and fertile land. For these homesteaders, the prospect of land ownership meant better economic opportunities, an escape from harsh eastern winters, or simply a chance to try a new way of life.

Like other travelers, the Malicks endured a six-month, 1,800-mile journey by covered wagon over muddy paths, treacherous mountain passes, and dangerous river crossings. They crossed a land that was poorly marked, with few roads, and no towns along the way where they could replenish their supplies. Only a few U.S. military forts connected them with their fellow citizens. To make matters worse, Abigail Malick reluctantly left behind a married daughter and three grandchildren.

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