Land of Many Hands: Women in the American West

By Harriet Sigerman | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
“YOU WILL WONDER
HOW I CAN BEAR IT”
LIFE ON THE
OVERLAND TRAIL

Shortly after arriving at her claim in Burnt Fork, Wyoming, homesteader Elinore Pruitt Stewart took her young daughter, Jerrine, on an overnight campout in the wilderness. She found a suitable clearing to set up camp and unpacked their provisions for the night, then made a roaring campfire. Later she proudly wrote to a former employer, ‘I kept thinking how superior I was since I dared to take such an outing when so many poor women down in Denver were bent on making their twenty cents per hour in order that they could spare a quarter to go to the ‘show.’ I went to sleep with a powerfully self-satisfied feeling.’

Stewart expressed a glowing pride and sense of freedom that many women felt in the expanses of the West. On the arduous overland journey and in the task of creating new homes and communities, some women broke free from the constraints that had shaped their lives back home and marshaled new skills and inner resources. But other women craved the traditional domestic pattern of their former lives and found the hardships of homesteading so overwhelming that they had neither the time nor energy to try out new ways of living.

-71-

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