The Frontier Ladies

The Frontier Ladies

Fred Pearson and family posed by their covered wagon, Johnson County, Kansas (1908). Source: Fred Pearson and family posed by their covered wagon, Johnson County, Kansas (1908). KSHS Identifier: DaRT ID: 208407 Source:
See credits below***

Old West Tales by Mustang

Most people think of western migration as something that men did.  While true, we mustn’t forget that women endured the same hardships as the men. We should not ignore the vital roles these migrating women played in the development of early America.  Most women who made the arduous journey to the western territories did so out of necessity.  Most women, although certainly not all, traveled with their husbands or families.

Some of the married ladies traveled by themselves at a later time, joining husbands who were already established, and a few of these arrived at their new location only to find that they had been widowed.  Single women made the journey as well, just not in very large numbers, and some of these as “mail order” brides.

Who were these frontier women?  They were wives, mothers, widows of civil war veterans, school teachers, and in a few cases, educated women who were looking to practice their professions as doctors or lawyers —these were vocations that had been denied to them in the reputedly civilized east.  While some women traveled west by ship or train, most walked every step of the way, sharing every hardship with their men —frequently with several children in tow.  These would be the women who survived, which is to say, the women we know about. There are hundreds of others who did not survive, of whom we have little knowledge.  We still find their sun-bleached remains in the high deserts of western America.  Whether they survived this arduous journey, all of these women endured the heat, the freezing cold, torrential storms, choked on dust, suffered shortages of food and water, and lived their every day in fear of hostile Indians.  Tragic accidents, and deadly diseases claimed more than a few.

Westward migration was a grueling journey.  Women-folk often drove the wagons and helped clear the roads of fallen debris.  When their wagons became mired in mud and filth, the ladies pitched in to push these heavy wagons out of the ruts and helped their men repair or replace broken wagon wheels.  When the day’s journey came to an end, it was the women who prepared the meals, washed and mended clothing, and bathed and tucked the youngsters in for the night.  They often led religious services, played musical instruments, or sang religious songs.

The plains wagons were pulled by either oxen or horses; the heavier the load, the more animals were needed–animals that required adequate forage to complete their task.  No matter what or how many animals were used, it was a long, slow, exasperating trip.  The wagons were heavy, the rutted roadways always a challenge, and the animals could only do so much.  For this reason, women and children quite often walked alongside their wagons [1].  Mature ladies, young ladies, children … everyone who was able walked the pathway to the promised land[…]

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***Credits:  Fred Pearson and family posed by their covered wagon, Johnson County, Kansas (1908). KSHS Identifier: DaRT ID: 208407 Source: (posted under Fair Use)

Permission to re-publish granted by Mustang who has no shortage of worthy over at his two blogs – Thoughts from Afar with Old West Tales and Fix Bayonets. Pay Mustang a visit, bookmark and subscribe.


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