A Real Pioneer Woman


Sometimes when I'm discouraged or overwhelmed, I find it helpful to read biographies of women of past generations. The amount of work and hardship these women routinely encountered, usually with a good will, puts me in my place.

I'm currently reading Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart. About a century ago Mrs. Stewart, then Mrs. Pruitt, had recently been widowed and left with a young daughter. What to do next? How about stake a claim in Wyoming? After deciding working as a laundress in Denver wasn't fitting the bill, Elinore decides to take a position as housekeeper for a Scottish cattleman in Wyoming, making her own claim next to his so she can carry out her cooking and housekeeping while satisfying the homestead requirements. Here's how she describes Mr. Clyde Stewart early on:

I have a very, very comfortable situation and Mr. Stewart is absolutely no trouble, for as soon as he has his meals he retires to his room and plays on his bagpipe, only he calls it his “bugpeep.” It is "The Campbells are Coming," without variations, at intervals all day long and from seven till eleven at night. Sometimes I wish they would make haste and get here. 

After six weeks (!) she ends up marrying Mr. Stewart, of course, who turns out to be a kind man who loves both Elinore and her little daughter. (They eventually had three sons together.)  Elinore's true story is told in letters that she wrote back to her friend and former employer in Denver, Juliet Coney. Mrs. Coney had the letters published in serial form in The Atlantic Monthly.

Though she considered herself poorly educated, Elinore, a voracious reader, writes friendly, witty letters which are alternately hilarious and touching as she describes her life in the wilderness great humor and elan. She details neighborhood sewing parties (the neighbors could be days away), weddings, run-ins with outlaws and polygamists, and outings such as one which turns into a blizzard requiring her and her daughter to take refuge with a delightful elderly sheepherder.  Though she lived in a land with only "three seasons" (July, August and winter), and experiences real difficulties and loss, Elinore doesn't complain, but takes life in stride. Often self-deprecating, Elinore apologizes for her long-windedness and other failings. Her outlook cheers me.

Today, feeling dissatisfied with myself over a recent failure, I read this:
From something you wrote I think I must have written boastingly to you at some time. I have certainly not intended to, and you must please forgive me and remember how ignorant I am and how hard it is for me to express myself properly....If you only knew how far short I fall of my own hopes you would know I could never boast. Why, it keeps me busy making over mistakes just like some one using old clothes. I get all ready to enjoy a success and find that I have to fit a failure. But one consolation is that I generally have plenty of material to cut generously, and many of my failures have proved to be real blessings.

Hear, hear.


And then, tonight, this, not in Mrs. Stewart's book, but in the Book:

I will love You, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer. My God, my strength, in whom I will trust. My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18: 1,2)
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