February 28, 2012

February 28, 2012

Things I’ve Read: Letters of a Woman Homesteader

Much as I’d like to claim grandiose motivations behind my selection of this book, I got it because it was free. Turns out Amazon is chock-full of free e-books whose copyright has expired. I’m now ankle-deep in Les Miserables and The Time Machine. Bit of a palate-cleanser before I start White Girl Problems.

Anyhoo, despite my interest in pioneer living, I have to admit that I’m culling mostly from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and the Oregon Trail computer games. There’s a chance, a small chance, that these portrayals of the frontier may not be totally accurate. I’m betting that at the very least, women had much bushier eyebrows.

After the Homestead Act was passed in 1909ish, Elinor Pruitt decided to up and move to Wyoming, where the land was cheap to anyone who’d farm it. As a widow with a small child, she realized that help would probably be needed. Luckily, a guy named Stewart was advertising for a woman to co-habitate (on the property, not in his house) and take care of the domestic whatnot. She needed his help with the outdoor work; he needed her help with the indoor work. Bing bang boom. Though they had no intention of marrying at first, the isolation of frontier life pushed them together. Her letters indicate a pretty happy life, so it worked out.

The book is a collection of letters Elinor wrote from 1911 to 1913. I’m not totally clear on who she wrote to, but she often signed them “Your former washlady,” so draw your own conclusions. Elinor recounts meeting neighbors, getting lost in the wilderness, breaking the land in, etc. It turns out that Wyoming had a lot of crazies at that time. (I’ve never been; does it still?)

At any rate, things were a lot different back then. You had to make a lot of stuff yourself. During the Christmas of 1912, the hung ornaments on the tree with hair. Hair! Gifts were peanuts and oranges. Oranges! And you know what didn’t get mentioned at all during the letters of 1912? The Titanic. I was so disappointed. I bet they didn’t care about the Kardashians at ALL.

As a kid, playing Oregon Trail 3 on my Macintosh 6360, I used to wish I lived back then. Biscuits for breakfast, a morning collecting wildflowers and berries, campfires…what’s not to like. If the occasional family member is lost to dysentery, well…that’s why you stocked up on quinine and ipecac before leaving Missouri.

Next thing I know, you’re going to tell me that real-life real estate is nothing like SimCity.

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