After the civil war, our western territories boomed. Not only did cowboys start pushing cattle through the trails, families from the east, freed slaves, and even more immigrants headed west to seek fortune, adventure, and a small bit of sky to call their own. With these men came families, women and children, all headed west.
Women of the old west conquered many odds, endured hardships, privations, loneliness, and poverty. They followed the trails west with their husbands, fathers and brothers, and in some cases, simply on their own. It was for the women of the west to settle the untamed and often harsh lands of the western territories, leaving behind, families, possessions, and comfort.
The trip west along the trails by wagon was long, wagons headed west, stopping off at points like Council Bluffs, Iowa, St Joseph, Missouri, Kansas City. These cities were among the few of first destinations, that aspiring settlers headed for, to then join up with other wagons to make the arduous trek further west. Wagons were packed full with enough supplies to last, very little room for luxuries, although many a woman found room they could for the prized bit of china, or a mirror, and even more exotically, a pruning from the rosebush that may have grown out side the door of the whitewashed home they left behind in the east.
Women on the trail were hardworking, industrious, and worked morning through night. Mornings they arose early to prepare food for the coming day, a hearty breakfast cobbled together with whatever they may have on hand, pack up the wagon, organize the kids, help harness the oxen to carry them for another 10 to 20 miles over rocky trails, through boggy roads, and across treacherous, non existent river crossings. They suffered from heat, oppressive winds, cold, and some days, plain misery. Babies were birthed; children died, and were buried along the trail. Yet, the spirit of the western pioneering woman was indomitable; they had a spirit that burned with strong purpose with a desire for adventure of their own.
So head west they did, and when they arrived, they often found that the living in the new promised land was just as difficult as the trek, and perhaps, to begin at least, an existence poorer than that they had left behind
Still western women conquered, many of them taking on the jobs of the time that were particular to their gender, mending, cooking, laundry, and teaching, and of course the celebrated position of a companion. With the monies earned, homes were paid for, lumber, seed, supplies purchased.
Homes were rough affairs, sod houses, shanties, tents, with little if any comfortable amenities. Winds blew dirt through cracks in walls, rain washed across dirt floors, and snakes were known to fall from ceilings. But these poor structures were made into homes, with hard work and love. In these homes children were raised, married and life was created with joy. The hardships these women lived with made them strong, and they found joy in what they could.
When time was found peaceable arts were practiced, to help brighten thier homes and souls. Journals were written, and could have read something like this;
“I woke this morning, and heard our first spring bird when I headed out doors for my morning ablutions. Even though the sun still shines weakly through winter’s clouds, I find my spirit lightened. This afternoon I will be taking the wagon to visit our neighbors, Dear Aida and her husband Charles. I am excited to spend time in the agreeable company of another woman. We will discuss much and help each other understand joy.”
When we talk of the west, write of the west, and read of the west, we must always send due to the woman who settled well. They are our pioneers, and they are the women who helped to define the strength we honor today.