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Old 04-13-2022, 09:49 AM   #31 (permalink)
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Narcissa Prentiss Whitman (1808 - 1847) and Henry Whitman (1802 - 1847)

As we’ve seen in the account above, husband and wife joined up with Henry and Eliza Spalding to attempt to convert the Nez Perce Indians of the Pacific Northwest, but at one point in the mission their paths diverged from those of the Spaldings, as they headed for Washington with their friends going towards Idaho. This was the beginning of the end for the young couple, but where did it all begin? Like Spalding, Narcissa Prentiss was born in New York and at the age of twenty-eight decided she wanted to be a missionary. She was married the next year (1836) to Marcus Whitman, taking his name and also keeping her own, which I think may have been somewhat atypical for the time and may have shown her to be rather independent, though I doubt she was any sort of feminist. Marcus had wanted to be a minister but was unable to afford the school fees. He trained as a doctor but felt the pull of the west, as did his new wife. Marcus had already answered this call in 1835, travelling with fellow missionary Samuel Parker to northern Idaho and northwestern Montana where he ministered to the Nez Perce Indians.

The done thing seems to have been to have got married and then almost spent your honeymoon telling natives how great your god was, and why they should worship him. Worked for them anyway, and also the Spaldings, who set off on the same journey after having been only recently married too. The Whitmans, having crossed the Rockies with the Spaldings and thereby Narcissa and Eliza becoming the first two women to do so, they set up their mission in the hilariously-named Walla Walla, in Washington. Narcissa at least saw her role as not just converting the heathen, but teaching them white American values, such as chores, making candles and soap, and baking.

The typical white sense of superiority towards what were considered savage and uncivilised peoples shows in Narcissa’s letters, where she declares the natives, the Cayuse, are "so filthy they make a great deal of cleaning wherever they go ... " and goes on to lament "we have come to elevate them and not to suffer ourselves to sink down to their standard." Thanks lady: I don’t think they asked you to step in with your bloody wooden cross and your posturing and pontificating. ****ing Christians. The Whitmans further instructed the Cayuse to build a place of worship for themselves, and when the Indians wondered what was wrong with the one they had already, Narcissa muttered icily in her letters that "we could not have them worship there for they would make it so dirty and fill it so full of fleas that we could not live in it." Charming. Segregation already in their minds: one church for us, one for those “dirty” natives. That’s how to convert them to the love of God, all right.

Samuel Parker had made promises to the Cayuse that they would be compensated for the land on which the white men built. When this payment was not forthcoming, their chief, Umtippe, made dire warnings, especially when his wife fell ill. He told Whitman "Doctor, you have come here to give us bad medicines; you come to kill us, and you steal our lands. You had promised to pay me every year, and you have given me nothing. You had better go away; if my wife dies, you shall die also." Further tensions arose when the Catholic Church sent its representatives, including Bishop François Norbert Blanchet to compete with the Protestants for the souls of the Cayuse, and the natives, not surprisingly, played each against the other. Henry Spalding would later, as already related, blame the Catholics for the coming massacre, as well as the closure of all missions in the Pacific Northwest. No evidence exists to support or refute this, but historically the two denominations have always hated and tried to thwart each other, so I’d say it’s perhaps not outside the realm of possibility.

Tragedy struck in 1839 when Narcissa’s only child, her daughter Alice Clarissa, was drowned when she fell into a pool, but this did not stop her striking out on her own to visit other towns and settlements when her husband headed back home to gain reinforcements, but unbeknownst to him, the mission itself was on borrowed time, as were they. Like the Spaldings, Whitman believed that the alteration of the natives’ nomadic habits, and settling them in villages while teaching them European-based agriculture would make them easier to convert, or perhaps to put it more bluntly, a stationery target is easier to hit.

The Cayuse shrugged and said they didn’t see what the problem was, so to speak. They had been a nomadic people for thousands of years, and weren’t about to change now. Incensed at their stubbornness and reluctance to change, that is, to remodel their lives to shape his vision and for his convenience, Whitman raged again against the Papists: “The novelty of working for themselves and supplying their own wants seem to have passed away; while the papal teachers and other opposers of the mission appear to have succeeded in making them believe that the missionaries ought to furnish them with food and clothing and supply all their wants.” Complaints and accusations that were echoed in part across the water in England, and which led to the setting up of workhouses.

Rather oddly, it seems to me, in order to safeguard melon patches from which the Cayuse had been, cartoon-animal-like, stealing the fruits, William Gray, another pioneer who would go on to eventually more or less set up the provisional government of Oregon, had poisoned them. Just a little, not to kill but just to deter the Cayuse from taking the melons. Now, if you’re already having problems with natives and are trying to gain their trust, I don’t think poisoning their food, even a little bit, is the smartest move, especially when they’ve already accused you of bringing bad juju in the form of diseases into their community.

In 1847 an epidemic of measles swept through Washington, and the natives, having no natural immunity to the disease, died while the whites mostly survived. While Whitman and the other missionaries did what they could for them, things went from bad to worse when a half-breed Iroquois called Joe Lewis, who had recently joined the mission, spread it about that the white men were poisoning, not treating the patients. Given that they had suffered poisoning before - and deliberate poisoning too - this then was not hard for the natives to believe.

They did, and all hell was set free.

Marcus was the first to go, taking an axe in the head when he was asked for medicine and taken by surprise, then shot in the neck. As the camp erupted in violence, Cayuse swarmed all over the mission and death was everywhere. Narcissa died soon after her husband, and so ended the mission of the Whitmans to civilise the Cayuse. Soon afterwards their mission was abandoned, and shortly after that the ABCFM declared there would be no more missions authorised into the Pacific Northwest. Neither Narcissa nor Marcus would live to see the results of their interference in a culture, as the Cayuse War exploded across the area, resulting in the decimation of the tribe and leading, along with other Indian wars, to the forced resettlement of the tribes on reservations while white people took their land. I’m sure God would have been proud.

America certainly was (which might be the same thing to some people). Not only was Whitman (Marcus, that is) commemorated in the name of schools and colleges, a forest and a glacier, he has (or had, until it was removed recently in the wake of BLM protests) a statue in the Capitol and even has a day dedicated to him, September 4 being Marcus Whitman day. There is also a hotel and conference centre with his name.


Jean-Baptiste Lamy (1814 - 1888)

At the extreme other end of the country, we have this guy. French born, he arrived in America in 1839, about the same time as the Whitmans and the Spaldings, but went to the mission in Cincinnati, and worked in Ohio and Kentucky until 1850, when he was appointed by the Pope as Bishop in New Mexico. This seems to have come as a surprise to him, and I can’t say why he was chosen, whether it was due to reports of his good works or whether in fact it was a poison chalice doing the rounds at the Vatican that Pius XII had to unload on someone. Either way, he arrived way down south in Sante Fe in the summer of 1851, but though the governor welcomed him, the Spanish priests already there did not. They refused to recognise his authority, and he had to go personally to their bishop to confirm the diocese was now under his control. The Spanish priests probably said something similar to “We don’ need no steenking Frenchman telling us what to do,” but had to accept his authority, as their bishop had said “sorry hombres, is how it is,” or something.

With his authority no longer in doubt - the Pope trumps any bishop you may care to name - Lamy set about reforming the New Mexico Church, building schools and making new parishes, and of course building churches. He made himself unpopular by ending the custom of concubinage, by which the local priests, forbidden to marry, could still get their end away with the local talent, and also broke up many brotherhoods, secret and exclusive religious societies. Let’s just say he wasn’t exactly Mr. Popular from the off. Nevertheless he was successful in moulding the Catholic faith in New Mexico, and he had the St. Francis Cathedral built, but he died in 1888 from pneumonia at the age of seventy-four.


Thomas Starr King (1824 - 1864)

Here’s one we haven’t come across before. Unitarians apparently believe that God is one being, not a trinity (sounds somewhat more logical than Christianity) and so while they are prepared to believe Jesus was a prophet, an emissary of God, they do not accept that he was God too. Which again I have to say makes far more logical sense, but probably made it hard for King to convince those who were not of his faith to switch. Oh, look! Unitarians also reject the idea of Original Sin and the infallibility of the Bible. I like these guys more and more. Another native of New York, King doesn’t appear to have attended any seminaries or schools, leaving his education in fact at the age of fifteen to support his family, and taught himself to be a minister.

He made his name in Boston, in the church on Hollis Street, of which he was made pastor in 1849, and also on the lyceum circuit, his speeches making him one of the most famous preachers in New England. An abolitionist and an environmentalist, he moved to San Francisco in 1850 and gave sermons on the beauty of Yosemite, for which he would lobby and eventually achieve the status of a national park. During the Civil War he was credited by Lincoln as “the man who saved the Union”, by speaking fervently and at length as to why California should not secede.

"I pitched into Secession, Concession and (John C.) Calhoun (former U.S. vice president), right and left, and made the Southerners applaud. I pledged California to a Northern Republic and to a flag that should have no treacherous threads of cotton in its warp, and the audience came down in thunder. At the close it was announced that I would repeat it the next night, and they gave me three rounds of cheers." ... King covered his pulpit with an American flag and ended all his sermons with "God bless the president of the United States and all who serve with him the cause of a common country."

He set up the Pacific branch of the United States Sanitary Commission, the forerunner of the Red Cross, which raised money for wounded soldiers, but the constant grind of the lecture circuit took a toll on his health and he died of diphtheria and pneumonia in 1864. Like other missionaries, he is commemorated in schools, parks, mountains, streets, even a giant Redwood, and he has his own statue in the Capitol, though it was replaced by Republicans in 2006 with one of Reagan. Right. Reagan. Okay.
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Old 05-14-2022, 10:08 AM   #32 (permalink)
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Buffalo Gals: Women in the American West

Part I: A Man’s World: Where No Woman Had Gone Before

It took a special kind of woman to face the new frontier. Perhaps it could be said to have been at least partially responsible for a shift in attitude among women in America towards the middle of the nineteenth century. No longer would it be enough to be demure, elegant, soft-spoken and retiring, allowing men to direct every aspect of their lives. That might have worked in the big - and small - cities of the east, but out here in the West, out on the prairie or in the boom towns a woman would have to consider being able to look after herself. While she would almost certainly leave her home accompanied by a man, it was a long and dangerous journey, and there was no guarantee she would arrive at her destination with that man alive, if she reached it at all. But if she did reach it, having lost her man or men to anything from bandit raids or accidents to diseases or sunstroke or exposure, she would have nobody to fall back upon. Assuming she was not heading to already-established relatives, she would be alone and would have to carve out her own future in this brave new world. Nobody was going to help her, and if anything, any man she might encounter would be more likely to try to take advantage of her, so she would need to be able to take care of herself.

While the legend of the West does not lack entirely for female figures - who does not know Annie Oakely or Calamity Jane? - it kind of centres around those two figures, and if you ask anyone who isn’t a student of either feminism or the American West for other names, most will scratch their heads in puzzlement. I know I did. Overall, women in the West seem to traditionally fall into two broad (no pun intended) categories: gunslingers and whores or madams. But of course there were many, many brave women who accompanied their husbands out to the new frontier and made their homes there, and many who made a name for themselves, names which have been all but erased and ignored by history, as generally speaking, the Wild West was a man’s world, and its writers, to a very large degree, were and are men, and to be brutally honest, in these men’s view, women don’t belong on the range.


But belong or not, ignored or not, pushed to one side and told to hush up, they stubbornly refuse to be forgotten, and many books have been written (mostly, unsurprisingly, by women) chronicling their lives and adventures, and trying to place their contributions to the legend and history of the west into context amid all the gunsmoke, thundering of hooves and whooping of injuns. While the above two ladies certainly deserve their place in history, as do the likes of Belle Starr, Susan Anderson, Eleanor Dumont and Cathay Williams (the first African American woman to serve in the US Army), and they will be covered and given their voice in other sections, here I want to concentrate on more unsung heroes (yes, even less sung than these women, who are at least remembered slightly grudgingly, but are still remembered for all that) who have been completely excluded from the story of the west.

But as Winifred Gallagher puts it in her book New Women in the Old West: From Settlers to Suffragists - An Untold American Story, the new frontier actually, almost paradoxically, provided and opened up new opportunities for women. “Women’s status also benefited from conditions in the West’s so-called settler society, which by definition was simpler, more forward-looking, and less encumbered by tradition, precedent, and an entrenched, oppositional establishment. During the hardscrabble settlement era, as in most of America today, it took two industrious partners to support a family, which increased women’s work and its value. In agrarian areas, unmarried women had their pick of suitors among men loath to homestead without a wife to handle the house and garden and earn much-needed cash from her “home production,” whether selling eggs and bread or taking in sewing or boarders.

In mining towns, women used those same domestic skills to make what seemed like small fortunes by marketing hot meals and clean laundry to the overwhelmingly male population. Some settlers also increased women’s civic profile by moving from the private into the public sphere as the “town mothers” who organized many of the West’s first schools, churches, and charities. These homemakers and community builders could not achieve economic much less political parity with men in the patriarchal system, but their record of hard work and dedication won respect and made them a force, albeit nonelectoral, to be reckoned with.”

In fact, equality for women would come sooner in the west than back in the east, where the worth of, and reliance on women was seen to be more important than was admitted by the comfortable city gents in their furnished houses with all their modern appliances and easy lifestyle. When you’re facing a harsh winter or a bleak summer without food or provisions, it’s surely an immense comfort to have the little woman there beside you, to share your tribulations as well as your triumphs. So why should they not be able to vote? Why should they be unequal? Despite the picture drawn by our old friend Hollywood of the woman of the west being a weak, ineffectual, often hysterical female who had no real role other than to be exploited or protected, depending on your protagonist(s) and the theme of the particular movie, respect for women grew exponentially in the west, leading to states such as Wyoming (the first in the USA), Utah (though later temporarily rescinded), Colorado and Idaho passing suffrage resolutions before the century was out.

The Homesteader Act, already mentioned earlier, did not differentiate between the sexes: man or woman could own land as long as they went to the west and cultivated it, and this was a huge step forward for women, who up until the passing of this act had been unable to own property if married. Another major development was the Morrill Land-Grant Act, passed a month later, which set up tuition-free colleges and universities, enabling women to study for careers traditionally dominated by men - law, medicine, journalism - and allowing them for the first time to be other than mere homemakers. This sudden influx of highly-educated and capable women (who could of course be, and were, paid less than their male counterparts) also opened up lucrative opportunities for employers, who had until then had to advertise all their positions for men only, and who probably, in most cases, found the idea of women working in their establishments a more attractive prospect.

A sort of reverse backlash in the east, too, meant that women who had until now been confined to the home could seek education in these new colleges and go into waitressing, work in factories, as secretaries and many other occupations previously denied to them for lack of education. The balance of power, work-wise, began to shift dramatically as women, almost en masse, entered the workplace and threatened the dominance of the male. In some ways, these two acts of Congress could be said to have galvanised a sort of female revolution, symbolically striking from them the chains that had held them imprisoned and restricted for so long, and, to carry the analogy slightly further, releasing them into the wild.

Homesteaders, cowgirls, saloon keepers, all the women who kept the men on the straight and narrow (or failed to, or did exactly the opposite) and stood shoulder to shoulder with them against attacks and adversities. They deserve to be recognised and celebrated, and for my source on this I’m using Erin H. Turners’s Wild West Women: Fifty Lives That Shaped the Frontier. Obviously I can’t feature all of them, but I will try to give a reasonable and varied cross-section.
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Old 05-14-2022, 10:24 AM   #33 (permalink)
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Clara Shortridge Foltz (1849 - 1934)

Showing her streak of independence at an early age, Clara eloped with her lover when only fifteen years old, but as their family grew he found it difficult to support them. She, for her part, was able to do so by writing articles for newspapers such as The New Northwest and the San Jose Mercury. After thirteen years her husband abandoned her, leaving her with five children to support. She did so by studying law in a local judge’s office thanks to the patronage of Sarah Knox-Goodridge, a local suffragette, and by giving lectures on suffrage. She managed to get a bill through which changed the requirement for lawyers to be white males, and so became in 1878 the first woman in California, indeed the first on the west coast, to pass the bar. However having been but poorly educated (given that she ran off to have babies at 15) she wanted to study to improve her knowledge of the law, and immediately ran into another obstacle set up by the male-dominated society.

Applying to Hastings College of Law, she was refused admission due to being a woman. With her ally, Laura deForce Gordon, she authored a bill which argued that if women could practice law (a right she herself had procured) then it made no sense for them not to be able to study it. Her bill suggested that "No person shall, on account of sex, be disqualified from entering upon or pursuing any lawful business, vocation, or profession." At a time when women’s rights were beginning to be taken seriously, she was able to convince the judge and gain admission to the college for all women. Ironically, the long and protracted legal battle had exhausted her funds, and she was unable to attend the college herself, returning to practicing rather than studying the law. She practiced in San Diego, San Francisco and New York.

Originally a supporter (though not allowed to vote) of the Republican party, she spoke publicly for them in four elections, but switched her allegiance after 1886, lecturing now for the Democrats in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. She became a leading figure in the women’s voting rights movement, working with the suffrage movement for over half a century and gaining many essential rights for women. In 1893 she suggested the radical idea of a public defender, a system which is now in use across the USA and most of the world, but which then wasn’t even considered. This was certainly another first, and Foltz’s life would be characterised by pioneering attempts and ideas and firsts.

She was the first female clerk for the State Assembly's Judiciary Committee (1880); the first woman appointed to the State Board of Corrections; the first female licensed Notary Public; the first woman named director of a major bank; and, in 1930, the first woman to run for Governor of California, at the age of 81. She also became the first woman deputy District Attorney, and authored the Women’s Vote Amendment for California in 1911. Despite her heavy workload, she never neglected those five children (she did not marry and had no more) and again, despite her prominence in the women’s suffrage movement, was keen to stress the importance of the domestic role in women’s lives.

When she passed away in 1934 from a heart attack at the age of 85, her coffin was carried by federal and state judges, as well as the Governor of Los Angeles. Although she never got to study at Hastings, under pressure from its female members the college granted her a posthumous degree in Law in 1991. In 2002, the Criminal Court in Los Angeles was renamed in her honour.


Susette La Flesche aka Inshata Theumba (1854 - 1903)

Born to the son of a French fur trader and his Ponca wife, Susette was educated at a white school in New Jersey after the Presbyterian mission school on the reservation closed. Her parents favoured assimilation with the white people, believing it held the best prospects for their children, and perhaps seeing the writing on the wall as the white man moved west. As regards education, their instincts proved right, as Susett’s sister, Susan, was to become the first ever Native American physician, while her other sister, Rosalie, became a financial manager for her tribe. Susette though was more interested in politics and so ensured she could learn the English language, which would be vital if she were to pursue such a career. Having graduated, she returned to the reservation where she wished to teach the Omaha, whose chief, Big Elk, had adopted her father as his son and where her family now lived. She ran into problems of a legal and bureaucratic nature though.

She was told by the Indian Commissioner that she could not teach on the reservation without a certificate, in order to obtain which she requested permission to leave the reservation, was refused, left anyway, and got her certificate. On her return though she was further baulked when the Commissioner said she needed also a “certificate of good moral character”. She got this from her school in New Jersey, but now the Commissioner was just simply ignoring her calls. She threatened to go to the newspapers about his intransigence and the clear impression that he simply did not want her teaching here, and he gave in, unwilling to be a part of any investigation, much less a scandal.

She travelled to Oklahoma, where her people, the Ponca, had been forcibly relocated and reported on the poor conditions of the camp, putting into action her earlier threat of using the newspapers to get her point across. Nearly one third of the tribe had already died due to the conditions and the journey to get to the reservation, and malaria was rampant while supplies were scarce, despite the government having promised to furnish them. Further, when the chief of the Omaha, Standing Bear, left the reservation for Nebraska to bury his son, who had died on the journey down, in his native land, he was arrested and put on trial. Susette interpreted for the chief, testifying as to the dismal conditions on the reservation, bringing media attention to the trial and confirming for the first time the rights of Indians as US citizens.

After he won his case, Standing Bear travelled throughout the eastern USA, accompanied by Susette as his interpreter, speaking about the rights of Native Americans. They later took their tour across the Atlantic to England and Scotland. Susette had by now married Thomas Tibbles, the editor of the Omaha Herald, who had been so instrumental in bringing the needed attention to her cause through his newspaper coverage. On their return to America, the couple wrote about the incipient Ghost Dance movement and the massacre at Wounded Knee, in which almost three hundred Lakota were slaughtered by the US Army in 1890. She also wrote and lectured about Native American women’s issues. She died in 1903, having just barely seen the new century in, and eighty years later was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame, with entry to the National Women’s Hall of Fame following in 1994.

Sarah Jane Cummins

You couldn’t call it the ideal honeymoon, could you? Picture the scene: jammed in with the rest of your family and your new husband into a ten foot by three space, jolting and banging along the dirt tracks and across onto the prairie known initially as the Great American Desert, and later renamed as the Great Plains, up the steep inclines of the Rockies and across those mountain ranges, following the trail mostly laid down by Native Americans in earlier times that led to the New Promised Land, sleeping out under the stars because there was so little room in the wagon, and when forced by bad weather to endure the cramped conditions, sharing it with tools, meat, provisions and other worldly goods which had all been piled on and packed into the wagon at the beginning of the journey, and which would not be unloaded until the destination was attained. Sunup to sundown, constantly on the move; hot, sweaty, aching in every bone, apprehensive of bandits or Indians along the way, unsure of even arriving safely, or if you did, of making a success of your new endeavour, and homesick already for the life left behind.

Such was the situation sixteen-year-old Sarah Jane Cummins found herself in when, along with her new husband of barely weeks, Benjamin Walden, she and her family set out from Missouri in search of a better life on the new frontier. Sarah found that she was forced to grow up very quickly during the journey, and traditional gender roles began to mix and turn fluid as everyone did what they could, regardless of sex, to ensure the success of the venture. Sarah had been used to travelling and moving, as her father had followed the opportunities in each territory as he saw them unfold, moving first to Ohio and then Illinois, but this was to to be the longest and most gruelling journey her father would ever take her on, lasting four months over wet, rocky, and at times arid and scorching terrain with no small amount of danger on the way. I suppose she must have thought that if she and Benjamin lasted through this ordeal, they would be together forever.

Sarah showed herself more than willing to do men’s work, as she disdained the practice of ladies riding “side saddle” and rode her horse like a man as she guided her husband’s wagon past ruts and pitfalls, also noting the vast wilderness as she rode, taking in all its rugged beauty and composing lyrical descriptions of the trail in her journal. However, as with most of the missionaries written about in the previous piece, there was no real regard for the Native Americans whom, by their incursions into what was their ancestral lands, Sarah and her family, along with all the other settlers, were displacing. Rather, she seems to have taken great umbrage - through her entry in her diary - at Cayuse and Walla Walla parties who caused “a night of terror” as they harassed the wagons trains passing through their homelands, only placated by strong coffee brewed by the invaders.

Sarah turned seventeen during the journey, and by the time they arrived in the Williamite Valley in Oregon and had staked their claim, it became clear that tough as the journey had been, the end point was not like arriving at a hotel or someone’s house where you could stay for the holidays. There was nothing at the end of this particular dusty rainbow other than the land - precious though it was, and given free of charge - and everything that they wished to create there they would have to mould with their own hands, from building a home to tilling the land and raising cattle and other livestock. This was definitely a new life that came, to use a twentieth-century expression, with some assembly required. Hard work was the order of the day, and there was no time for rest, chiefly because all that awaited them at their destination was a pretty basic shack or cabin, and it would take real effort to turn it into anything resembling a home they could live in.

I began writing this piece, learning as I went and wondering what great contribution to American history Sarah Jane Cummins made. The answer, I found out, is nothing really, but then in another way everything. She didn’t become a lawyer or a doctor (though she did dabble in real estate, something few women back east had the chance or opportunity to engage in) and she didn’t single-handedly (so far as I know) hold off any bloodthirsty bands of native savages. Her husband lasted forty-odd years with her, so she wasn’t left alone to fend for herself in the new wilderness. In many, most indeed ways she was nothing remarkable.

And yet, Sarah Jane stands as an example of the kind of eastern girl who very quickly became a western woman, adapting to her new life and the challenges of the frontier, making a home for herself and her family (she eventually had five children, though only two survived) and proving that women were more than the sum of their parts. She set, if not a trailblazing path, then at least a marker down for the women who would follow her and colonise the west, the women who would dare to dream of a better, more exciting, more profitable - both in terms of money and of personal betterment - life out beyond the fringes, over the Rockies and across the plains, and, as someone once said, into the West. Proof, indeed, that not all the women who went out to seek their fortune and make a new life were heroines, but they all had courage and determination, and sometimes that’s all you need.
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