“Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1849,” by Kenneth L. Holmes




“Covered Wagon Women” is a fascinating non-fiction account of fourteen pioneer women traveling west in the 1840’s. The book was edited and compiled by historian Kenneth L. Holmes. It is a remarkable book in that it consists of primary source, unedited diary entries, letters and other correspondence. The editor left the women’s narratives unedited as the women actually wrote them, replete with original syntax, spelling, and punctuation, and the mistakes made therein.There are additional “Covered Wagon Women,” volumes in a series. I read volume two and found it equally compelling.These unedited first person narratives give the reader a genuine sense of who these women really were, what they were seeing, experiencing, and feeling. Of course the unbelievable hardship, birth, death and tragedy are heart wrenching, but these incredible women’s intelligence, courage and appreciation of the beauty of their experience is also made abundantly clear. The women’s observations are reminiscent of the biographies of the famous male explorers, at times scientifically dispassionate, as they keenly and in detail, describe the new flora and fauna, terrain, climate, and Native Americans they encounter. They were after all, explorers as well.

They are also most effective in relaying their feelings. Take for example this excerpt from Tabitha Brown about her experience traveling west in 1846, now left to her own devices as she struggles on with an old, feeble, near death companion who was unable to care for himself or offer her any assistance,

“Here the shades of night were gathering fast and I could see the wagon tracks no further. I alighted from my horse, flung off my saddle and saddle bags and tied him fast with a lasso rope to a tree…..his senses were gone…..I covered him as well as I could with blankets…and helped the old gentleman, expecting he would be a corpse by morning. Pause for a moment and consider my situation-worse than alone; in a strange wilderness; without food, without fire; cold and shivering; wolves fighting and howling all around me; darkness of night forbade the stars to shine upon me; solitary- all was solitary as death…. As soon as light had dawned, I pulled down my tent, saddled the horses, found the Captain so as to stand on his feet…”

And she continues on towards Oregon. Remarkable. And there are many more narratives like this in the book.

I read a lot of these non-fiction pioneer and Native American history books (more about these in a latter review) as I traveled recently through the west, crossing and re-crossing the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails. I read books about a woman homesteading alone on the prairie, the first homesteading couple in what is now Glacier National Park, another about a widow hiring a helper and traveling on the first trek over the Oregon trail where they broke the trail, a book about a woman and her family crossing the Mojave Desert and this incredible collection of women’s narratives and I realize we’ve all been robbed with the books, movies and folklore of “the old west,” that have focused on the cowboys and male explorers, and mostly ignored the incredible fortitude, bravery and contribution of these pioneer women.

Riveting reading. Highly recommend.



314 thoughts on ““Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1849,” by Kenneth L. Holmes

  1. I really enjoy these type of books, I think in many ways the women pioneers were very underated. As we travelled I came across many stories of brave women pioneers in the Australian outback

  2. Pomm-
    Oh Yes! the outback seems even more intimidating than the American west. Remember the book and than the mini-series, “A Town Called Alice?” I was so engrossed by both.

    I just read a few months ago that the coroner ruled that the Chamerlain-Creighton baby was in fact taken by Dingos. Snatching a child from a crowded campground. That is intimidating. (See Link.) The poor family.


    And then there’s the snakes.

    Still such a gorgeous country. I want to go back and explore more of it. I was mesmerized by the birds! The exotic to me, commonplace there. I remember 40 or so Black Cockatoos crying like cats in a bush at night. Thrilling. I will try and find this blog I want to follow called something like, Australphotos…stunning photos. Have you seen them?

    Take care,


  3. That poor woman, Lindy Chamberlain, she went through hell, first accused of killing her own baby then imprisoned for years. Nearly all Australians were on her side, it created huge controversy at the time. It was such a relief for her to finally be exonerated of all guilt. I loved the book A town like Alice but never saw the series. I still have to make it to Alice, we were going this trip until Matilda had problems and we had to change track to take her for “surgery”.
    No I do not know the photo blog you mention

    1. Pomm-
      When I find the blog I’ll send it to you. They are traveling around Australia and taking incredible photos.
      Yes, the Chamberlain case was tragically sad. This seems to happen occasionally, innocent parents accused of killing their child. Tragedy on top of tragedy. I wonder if they ever find peace? Must be incredibly difficult.
      Give my best to “Matilda!”
      Such a great name.
      Also just remembered one of my favorite movies of all time, about the outback, “Walkabout,” directed by Nicholas Roeg. Such an amazing flick.

  4. Don’t think I have seen that movie so will look out for it in the video store.
    Matilda’s full name is Meandering Matilda!!!!! She is not doing much meandering at the moment though…

  5. Excellent review. I think sometimes of how rough it must have been to travel cross country with no paved roads, harsh winters, etc. They certainly were very strong and brave. Thanks for the like of my post “It’s Apple Blossom Time”.

  6. This is fascinating – sounds a great read indeed. Love the old picture – did it have many pictures in the book? REALLY love those old pictures.

    My gosh, to think of driving around in my car, heater on, totally enclosed – those days were really something else.

    Very interesting choice of book, & great review.

    1. Yes there are photos, but I also augmented with google images as I too love the old photos especially of pioneer women……I looked closely at the photos. They women’s clothes were tattered and dirty (no wonder). Their skin was burned by wind and sun. They were squinting into the camera. The children were barefoot. They looked like homeless people, which of course, as they crossed North America continent, they were. Hard to imagine if we still retain any remnants of their courage.
      Thank you for your kind comments.

  7. So glad this blog post was suggested and that I came here. Years ago, I had done research thinking that a book about women heading West in the late 1800’s would be fun to write / read. Looks like this is going to be a great read. Thanks for the review.

    1. It was a fascinating read and I have read many other books on this subject and am now reading about a family crossing the Mojave Desert. If you like the book, and want to read more on the subject, just give me a, holler! Cheers and thank you Holly~

    1. You have to read it then. She might just be! I have lots of non-fiction books on the subject and my husband thought I had found one of his relatives also, but it turned out not to be the case. Let me know what you think~

    1. I loved the personal narratives of these women. It brought me almost into the covered wagons with them which was remarkable, hearing their thoughts and reactions as they crossed America seeing these totally foreign places. I was left with such deep admiration for them. Thank you for your kind words.

  8. this post evoke profound sadness in me,human existence is marked with woe and disaster,but the courage we show in moments of crisis is worth million golds.thanks for the wonderful post.

  9. Hi Cindy,
    A wonderful book review! I own that book, and many others like it. My family traveled along bits and pieces of what’s left of the Oregon Trail as a research project for storytelling programs that I was writing based upon the experiences of the pioneers. I now tell those stories, all from the women’s point of view. The Westward movement was unique, with many lasting consequences, none beneficial to the Native Americans, but formative in the geography and character of the United States.

    1. Thank you very much. I too have skads of books on the subject as I never tire of it. First narrative from Native Americans, pioneers, pioneer children raised by Native Americans. Unbelieveable, compelling history. I just read “Across Death Valley,” a non-fiction account from a pioneer woman’s perspective of their trip across Death Valley. AND, if that isn’t enough coincidence for you, my husband and I just crossed and cris-crossed The Oregon Trail last fall, retracing much of the route as well.
      Sounds like we share some common interests. Cheers to you and thank you~

      1. Small world! David’s first teaching job was at K State..big rivals! 😎 We were very happy in Manhattan except for the abysmal lack of shopping! I loved going to Kansas City, though! Namaste. .. .. Anne

  10. pioneer women were every bit as intrepid as the men — their lives wore them out before their time though. Many good stories have been lost.

    1. Interestingly enough I just finished a book called “Across the Mojave,” about group of pioneers who made a truly intolerable trip across the Mojave Desert to California. They were a group of families who starved and were near perishing from dehydration. The principal women in the party lived into very old age in California and become stalwart matriarchs of their towns. Not what I expected either. They may just have been very strong women. Thanks for dropping by & commenting! With the Oregon trail, many of the women did the same in Oregon and became town mothers as it were!

  11. It is very interesting – The story is similar to the Danish stories. We have had a lot of folks migrate to US and there are stories from those whom make it over there. It was kind of ruff I believe and for those who was left did not have that good of a life. At the moment I am reading about the old Copenhagen and why the streets are named as they are. Thanks for visiting my blog “Far Away” 😀

    1. The old Copenhagen book sounds fascinating and yes the pioneers had a very difficult time. Many perished on the trails. All endured unspeakable hardship. These were courageous women. Very admirable also!
      Thank you for commenting and I am enjoying your creative blog! Cheers to you!

  12. Thank you for this. Just may have to pick it up! I have recently been reading more and more by and about women headed West. I live in Arizona and cannot imagine crossing this desert in a wagon.

    1. Yes I just read “Across the Mojave.” This is something I cannot even fathom. But I also could never understand how they got through the Coastal Mountains and the High Sierras. Incredible women!

  13. Cindy, have you ever been to Nevada City, California? In the heart of the old town, behind a small hotel is a plaque to “The ladies of the evening” and their contribution… Without them, the West would not have “been won.” 🙂 Lea

    1. No I haven’t seen this. But I did tour the old houses of prostitution in Alaska. It makes me sad for the women who had to rely on this awful option. Have you heard the Japanes politician who recently said that comfort women were “necessary?” At least the plaque acknowledges their existence. Sad. In Amsterdam recently I went through the sell people street. I saw the young females in their windows. I watched them get purchased. I think buying and selling people for sex is no longer “cool.” I hope this is the case at least…..

      1. Yes, I have seen the Red Light District in Amsterdam back in 1999. It was sad then and wasn’t something to improve with age.
        As we drive from here down into Spain there are “working girls” lined up along the highway and as the economy there worsens, there are more women out there…

      2. It’s the social worker in me of course, I had so many sex workers as clients who came from backgrounds of abuse and neglect. I despise cruelty and it is cruel.
        It would be interesting to arrest the Johns rather than the prostitutes wouldn’t it? Its a crime to be a prostitute, but not a purchaser of a person’s body?

  14. This entry popped up when it annonce you following …

    Every once in a while for plesant distraction I watch reruns of ‘Little House’ – It is amazing for me to think that Laura http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_Ingalls_Wilder
    died just months before I was born.

    If I didn’t already have a ton of books on my to-be list… But I think I am still going to copy the title anyway…

  15. Hi ! Firstly let me thank you for the like on my blog ” Native American Indian Pottery” This post on your blog is most interesting and I will look forward to reading more so will follow you. Thanks for sharing.

  16. I have always been fascinated with the lives of the early pioneers, especially from the women’s point of view. In your description of where you live in Calif. (Appalachian holler style), I had to laugh because I DO live in Appalachia (Virginia) and your description fits many a neighborhood around here. I often wonder during the winter what it was like out here in the late 1700s, during the early settler years when it took two days on a horse carriage to get to the nearest town (now an hour’s car drive away). If you didn’t grow enough food, if the harvest failed, if winter came too early – it would be a very rough winter. At least there was a small community and people looked out for each other. On the trail West, not even those neighborly comforts were in place….

    1. Yes the true stories of these women pioneers fascinate me. I have read lots of them. It demonstrates what women are made of. Particularly remarkable are the single women homesteaders. These are women who left their families, moved to the middle of nowhere, staked their claim, and lived to write about it. So remarkable. And there were lots of them too. Women who, for whatever reason were alone, some never married, others widows, etc., but who decided a conventional life was not for them. The Holler where we live is all prior homesteaded land, but the homesteaders here, mostly gave up and I can see why. We have fierce wind, heat, and problematic soil. But man is it gorgeous, as I know the mountains of Virginia are! So glad to make your aquaintance here in blogdom!

        1. I have lost count of how many therapists I have gotten to know in blogdom. I think, with you, their are nine of us now following each other ! I miss seeing clients, but I don’t miss one or two problematic employees. Basically, I relax at The Holler, and travel! Can’t really be beat can it?? So glad to get to know you and cheers!

    1. Yes, if I remember correctly. I am very interested in this time in history and have read many interesting non-fiction accounts about Native Americans and also pioneers, so I may be mistaken, but I don’t think so. It’s on my kindle and I can check if you wish. Have you read, “Empire of the Summer Moon: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Nation?” If so, I would be interested in your opinion. Also, do you have a book or two to recommend to me? Would love some new recommendations. Cheers to you~

      1. Hello, Cindy.
        I have not read “Empire of the Summer Moon; The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Nation.”

        As for book recommendations — I’m assuming you mean historical/Native Americans, at the moment. If so, then Ella Cara Deloria’s book Waterlily –which is based upon her extensive field research with people who lived the pre-European contact life-ways.

        Now, if you’re talking books in general–well, Cindy, that depends on what interests you.What’s your interest range? Genres?

      2. I will start with Waterlily. Thank you for the rec. I tend to read mostly non-fiction. Historical and accurate accounts of the Native American experience are what interest me. Happy Friday and thank you~

  17. Wow Cindy that was a very intriguing read. At my age 55 I am just now getting my college degree. Better late than never. I have always loved history. These tales would certainly be an interesting read.

    I drove from Louisiana to Arizona last year (although spent most my life in California) by myself, anyway while crossing those desert expanses I wondered about the people that made those journey in wagons. Now I guess I can read about it. Thank you for sharing the review and for visiting my blog.

    ✿ღ✿ღ.¸¸ღ♫*¨`*•..¸ƸӜƷ ✿ღ ✫❀ƸӜƷ

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed the read! I hope you do read it and let me know what you think. Congratulations on being close to your degree! Quite an accomplishment, as is driving solos from LA to CA. Life is wonderful and it sounds like you are making the most if it!! GOOD for you! My kind of woman! Cheers to you & thank you~

      1. Since being in school, I have not really had the time to read for pleasure but that collection sounds so fascinating. It will be on my list. Thanks for the Follow Cindy. Always good to have another Cindy on board. 😀

  18. Excellent. Enjoyed reading that very much. We need to get the real story of herstory out there. We need to teach the fact that WOMEN were alive in the past and actually did the same thing that men did, only better, sometimes. Thank you.

    1. Ach, yes! So frustrating that most of their stories have gone untold. I read a book about female homesteaders who claimed their thirty acres and a mule and homesteaded on their own? Did we ever learn of these stories in history? Is anyone teaching this to young people now?
      Thank you for recognizing this~

  19. Misogyny is everywhere and then as well but women are as important to history because even as a wife, they raised the families in just terrible conditions. So all of you males hug your mom and do not let other women or men besmirch women’s role or their character.

  20. It’s rare and wonderful to really hear the voices of women in history. I can’t even imagine making that trek with kids and all your belongings. How many millions of times would the kids ask “Are we there yet?” It boggles the mind. Amazing anyone actually made it.

    1. Many made it which makes it even more remarkable and lots went on to live to old age and were leaders and community founders in their new towns. I agree. Mind boggling. Thank your for commenting and visiting!

  21. Shared this on Twitter. Do you tweet? I don’t see your twitter acct attached to the tweet (as in via @…). It would be nice if you attached it because this way you get credit and more twitter exposure when I tweet you.

  22. Sounds so interesting!!
    I could see me, back then, traveling west in a covered wagon with my husband.
    On the rough days (and I am sure there were many), I would have been asking “OK. Can you tell me again….WHY did we have to do this? I liked our home on the east coast just fine.”

  23. If that is as mean as you can get, I’ll sign up for your wagon train!! You can lead the anger management group for disgusted pioneer women!! I’ll make the refreshments, umm, hardtack and sagebrush tea!!! Cheers to you!!

  24. Cindy
    I am just getting back to being in touch with others and it is so nice to hear from you and visit you again. I do admire the woman of the past. Their dedication, their desire to survive and leave a strong legacy. Good reading Cindy

    1. Thank you! I was an Ingalls addict when I was young. I wanted to be on all her adventures. Your daughter may enjoy her bio. Non fiction and fascinating, tying all the books together and her entire life~

  25. Taught high school history 33 years. But developed a disdain for textbooks in favor of letters and diaries likes this. Brings you into the hearts and minds of people and they still speak to us from the past which I think is a valuable link for all humanity. Thanks visit my blog.

    1. This sounds a whole lot more creative than my high school American History class! Ooooh those textbooks, bad memories. The letters and diaries approach would have gotten by attention. There is an immediacy to them that can be so riveting. You feel almost as if you are there! Cheers to you & thanks~

  26. Good review. My wife and I began a landscape history study once and read almost 7,000 letters, diaries, and journals (she did most of the reading). Like other unfinished projects, the data is in a forgotten file cabinet somewhere in our office. Thanks for the reminder. Perhaps we can stir up our ambition to get finished.

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    1. The truth is these pioneer women were remarkable in fortitude and bravery and their story hasn’t been told from their own perspective until this book. Thank you.

    1. Which would make you an excellent history teacher whose students will actually get something from your class, if they read it! I would love the class! Thank you and cheers to you~

  28. Thanks for this. Have you read “Women of the West” (Cathy Luchetti & Carol Olwell, Antelope Island Press, 1982)? A lot of first-hand accounts dating from 1830 to 1910. We agree whole-heartedly with you and some of your commenters: source material is the only way to really get at history – why read someone else’s interpretation of the same stuff?

    1. No I haven’t read this but will look into loading it on my kindle if available for our upcoming trip. I agree with you. These first person accounts are riveting reads. Thanks for stopping by and cheers to you~

  29. Hi Cindy, nice to meet you. Thank you for stopping by my blog.

    This is an incredible read. You are so right about the movies on the ‘old west’ being mainly about the cowboys. Maybe some brave women or men out there in Hollywood will take a giant step forward and produce a film about these women. That would be extraordinary!

    Great job on this blog! I will follow you! Best wishes!

    1. That would be wonderful, but I’m not holding my breath! Hollywood seems to be spending it’s money on cheesey remakes…..like we need another Spiderman! Laughing…….Thank you for your kind workds & cheers to you~

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  31. what a great, thoughtful review. As a Montana raised gal, I have a penchant for the Wild Wild…did you wean on the Little Prairie Books?, lol–and these sound just great. Right up my alley. I am going to order them from the library directly! Or should I say: terectly…;)

    good perspective for me–wrapped up in modern day woe…

    1. Oh yes I was a Ingalls fan big time and love Montana….spent summers in Wyo! While you are ordering, check out the bio on Laura Ingalls Wilder, the true story of her life. Fascinating! Cheers to you my friend~

  32. How refreshing to discover and read your review of the journals of these courageous women. I love history! I find there is a commonality of bravery, perserverance and trust in God throughout every generation. We do what we have to do ” So help us God!” Thank you for sharing and thank you for visiting and liking my blog.

  33. I have often thought that I would have been one of the women who wouldn’t have survived such a difficult journey. I live on the border with Mexico and occasionally run into people who have crossed the border illegally. Some have walked for days and days. Some die of dehydration, rattlesnake bites, and in winter, of the cold. I simply cannot imagine the desperation and bravery (the hopes and dreams, too) that led people of the 1800s to move west. I feel the same about people who come north from Mexico and further south.
    Have you read “These is My Words?” Recommended.

    1. I will look up the book. Thank you. My children were delivered by cesearean because I couldn’t deliver naturally. I always thought I would have been one of the women who died in childbirth on the pioneer trail.

      1. Well it definitely got me addicted to reading all the non-fiction on the subject that I could find. This could be considered good or errrrrrr…..bad, accordingly!!

  34. Cindy, thank you for reading my post on multipleyouuniverse.wordpress.com. I wanted to share that I also have a deep appreciation for women in early Western American history, who settled there and helped civilize (if you will) the townships which sprang up. I lived in Los Angeles in 1975-1984, when my friend, Marlowe, who used to own a book and magazine store in Hollywood, talked me into writing a proposal for a television series (working title, Women of the West), about fascinating true life stories. My agent shopped it around but it never garnered enough interest. I loved their stories and hope that some day I will have time to develop them into a book. I will dedicate it to Marlowe, who was my first mentor, and early woman’s libber for his time. He has long since transitioned, but I have often remembered how good it felt to have someone believe in me, as a struggling writer, back in the day.

    I hope you have a lovely day, Cindy.

    1. Oh I do hope you develop it into a book! I would read it in a heartbeat and so would a lot of other people. So happy to meet you and thanks for stopping by! Cheers to you~

  35. Cindy,
    Just signed on as a new follower. I thank you for yor interest in my essay, “Stumbling Toward Success,” posted on Contagious Optimsm. I also have a personal blog titled, “Crossroads-Right Choices.” I invite you to visit it also, as time permits.
    Your blog is quite interesting.
    Again thank you.

  36. Much, much more should be written regarding the contributions of women! I am with you totally on this! It seems each time I write something lately, I have been thinking how the male image and the war machine is so much in our expression and our language. We will have to continue the crusade to honor the value of women. Worldwide women have suffered so much. The internet certainly has brought that reality to the forefront. I enjoy your photographs and written words, Cindy! Thank you for your visits to my blog—your presence there does encourage me to continue! Blessings on your weekend!

    1. Good, because continuing your blog is important for you and for your readers. And yes, there would have been no successful westward migration without the incredible fortitude of pioneer women. Women all over the world today face such heinous trials and yet they have so much to offer in creating a more peaceful and harmonious world. Blessings to you~

  37. A fascinating read and articulated so well Cindy. Those years must have been incredibly challenging. We take so much for granted in this day and history most certainly bears repeating. We can all learn from the hardship, mortality and many forms of adversity that women lived through in those days.

    1. It is hard to imaging the level of hardship, felling trees and cutting the Oregon trail as you go, crossing The Sierras, the plains, and the deserts, walking the bulk of it. We used to be made of sterner stuff!! Cheers to you and thanks for stopping by~

  38. I’m delighted you dropped by my blog giving me the opportunity to read your post about those pioneer women and their endurance. I love the history of the 1800’s and I’m going to look into those books mentioned in your post and in the comments.

  39. My grandmother grew up in Kansas and I have a book called “Pioneer Women – Voices from the Kansas Frontier. It’s an older book, pub. 1981 and confirmed the stories about the life my grandmother led. I have written down the name and will see if I can find it on Amazon – thanks 🙂

  40. So glad I stumbled on this post. I just finished reading The Covered Wagon by Emerson Hough and was wishing for another read about the trip West. This sounds perfect. Thanks, Julie

    1. Yes, this is exactly what I do. I get on a particular topic and read everything I can on the subject until the books run out. I did this with female pioneers, female homesteaders, American Indians and the west. There were a fair number of books about female homesteaders who went for the 100 acres and a mule offer by themselves and wrote about it. Really fascinating stuff and remarkable women~

      1. But it is true. Even your picture shows what a beautiful and kind woman you’re. I am happy to call you my friend, better yet, my sister dear Cindy. I like when people use their real name in their blog. Other kind of names always confuse me if the person behind the post a woman, a man, a group, etc, etc! You’re Cindy and I am Ellie. Love you sister <3

      2. Never understood the pseudonyms. Why would one wish to put forth the effort to blog under a contrived name? I have good blogger friends whose lives I know about but whose names I don’t know. It seems strange to me too~

  41. I often wonder what our pioneering ancestors, male & female, would think of people today, and what wimps we’ve become with all of the luxuries we enjoy through modern technology. I remember losing electricity for a week due to a hurricane, and you’d think the Earth had fallen off of its axis. Today’s population wouldn’t last a week suffering the hardships our brave, sturdy predecessors faced (I imagine). I’ll bet the ‘pioneering books’ would be an interesting choice(s) in reading, especially for someone who really appreciates the trials and hardships our ancestors suffered cutting the paths for the rest of us to follow.

    1. It has always amazed me when traveling and seeing the various terrains, how people actually accomplished this over and over again. Taking wagons over the Rocky Mountains for example, or the Sierras, crossing the Mojave desert, making rafts and floating wagons and animals across the Columbia River. It just stupefies me. How on earth did they do this? Did you know there were women who took advantage of The Homestead Act, got their mules and acerage, and homesteaded alone in places like Montana and Wyomming. They wrote diaries. I knew nothing about this until reading these books. I agree with everything you are saying!

  42. Do the women in these narratives look down on the Native Americans as much as the men? If not, how do they morally deal with taking somebody else’s land?

    I don’t mean this in the sense of shaming anybody. Considering the Native Americans as subhuman was normal, healthy morality for the time. I’m just curious as to how these new heroes differed from the old heroes, if at all.

    1. Really excellent question and worthy of an entire review of every book I’ve read on the subject. I would appreciate it if you read the book and give me your impressions if you have time. It’s been awhile since I read the book. That said, going off of memory, I will guesstimate that the women’s narratives seemed to be full of curiousity towards Native Americans mixed with some, not pronounced, fear, and some prejudice. IF, and this is a big if, I recall correctly, many of these first trains were guided by trappers. The trappers were the only white people who knew the country at this time. Many of them lived with the Native Americans, spoke their language, had a Native American wife and children. Trappers were non-conformists who rejected civilization and all it’s discontents. Some of them were deeply imbedded with Native Americans and attempted in later years to advocate on their behalf.
      The trappers influenced the early pioneers. These were also the first wagon trains west. Anglos hadn’t commenced their campaign of genocide against Native Americans at this point and relations were not yet fully strained. So the full fledged racist idealogy/campaign hadn’t taken hold. I remember curiousity (with women writing detailed descriptions of encounters), some fear during encounters, peaceful exchanges/trade, and some prejudicial bias. But nothing like the horrid racist virulence that came later.
      Please read the book, and set me straight if my memory isn’t accurate.
      I have read so many books on this subject and my guess is that initially there was some fear, prejudice, but mostly peaceful interactions. It was when the anglos wanted to steal the Native American’s land that the genocide began, fueled and supported by racist idealogy.

  43. My great-great-great grandparents were immigrants & pioneers,crossing the Allegheny Mtns. by wagon, then took a flatboat down the Ohio River, a journey of three months – in the WINTER! They had 5 children with them, including one who was only a year old, and my 3-greats grandmother was pregnant during the entire journey! I wish I had a first hand account of this journey but nevertheless it was remarkable. First hand accounts such as the ones in the book you have reviewed here are invaluable resources for those who want to be able to have some idea of what these arduous journeys were really like, what these people endured. Incredible!

    1. How wonderful that you know this history! So much of it is lost forever. Especially the stories of the women pioneers, most of whom were caring for young children, many while pregnant, and quite a few giving birth on the trails. The wild west as we were taught and shown was never really the stories of these incredible women and their strength and courage. I am sure you are very proud of your female ancestors, for very good reason and I am glad you are able to tell their stories. Might you be encouraged to write a post about them? I would love to read it.

  44. Sounds like a fascinating book. I love to read these kind of accounts (and being UK rather than US they are new to me). Gonna try and find the book! Thanks for the review.

    1. I hope you enjoy it! If you are interested in more of this genre, pop back over, and I can give you some more titles. Love the UK and will be there very soon~

      1. Phyllis Williams wphyllis24@gma

        Reading this is so interesting because my grandfather and great cgrandfather traveled in a covered wagonin Morgan county indbiana

  45. Reblogged this on Dogs On My Mind and commented:
    When I was in kindergarten my teacher let me read her copies of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories about her life. I loved them so much. My mom and I would read them. It was a nice way to learn to read. I think now that I am older, and a girl who wants to write for a job, this book will be a good step to take.

    1. I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was young too. I wanted to live her constantly moving and adventurous pionner life. She was remarkable. I would very much like to know what you think when you read the book. And more to the point, I love your blog! You keep on writing Piper. You are a writer.

    2. I believe you are absolutely right. These stories are true masterpieces of the way life was during their lifetime. Anyone who has not investigated or researched history to learn of this fascinating journey from the somewhat tamed Eastern U.S. to the wild unknown West will never understand how mankind has remarkably survived the extreme hardships these people endured during their 5 to 6 month journey through praries, rivers, mountains, deserts, heat, cold, starvation and thirst. Determination, courage, and faith was the drive that brought these folks to their destination. I honestly don’t believe most people living today could actually have done what these pioneers were able to do and accomplish. I must say that the pioneers who made America what it is today are indeed worthy of being some of the greatest explorers of all time. They are all truly truly heros.

      1. I agree with you and all your points. There was a sense of optimism in these narratives, a feeling of adventure and faith that they pioneers would be able to build a prosperous life in the west. I think we have lost so much in the modern world by our dependence on cities, employing organizations, grocery stores, all the trappings of “civilization.” I was struck by how many pioneers left comfortable lives because of the opportunities offered by the western frontiers and their desire to make an independent life for themselves. I think young people today no longer have this sense of optimism, or the belief that they can live independent of civilization, and for this us modern folks are the losers. We all have become dependent on civilization and we have lost the pioneer spirit and the pioneering opportunities. This is sad for us.
        Sometimes I wonder, if a new frontier opened up, ‘stake your claim for free, build your cabin, hunt and gather, plant your food, breed your livestock,’ would there be anyone left who knew how to do any of these things?

    3. Julie Shields

      Piper, just reading your post about the Laura Ingalls Wilder books gives me a feeling of wonderment. I don’t remember which teacher read those to us in elementary school, but I am grateful they did. Say “Little House in the Big Woods” and it takes me back to something unmatched in my years of reading.

  46. Thanks so much for liking my author blog posts , and for liking my music blog posts for another site. However, do please pop over to the actual articles on Creative Frontiers and let me know what you think, by commenting there if possible. I’d appreciate feed-back. I loved your post above. It is so descriptive and I enjoyed it so much. Reminded me of years ago when I had a band with me on our of the USA and we drove up from Denver to Seattle via the Cascade Mountains. We stopped off for a look at a petrified forest in a place called Vantage and there was a plaque there to the Native American Indians who’d lived there by a canyon with a dry river bed (now), and as we got out of the limo I can recall being blasted by the dry heat and it was a nightmare, we got back in the limo and had bottled water to hand. I thought about the early settlers and their covered wagons, the women in their skirts and petticoats and the heat and lack of water or shade. How the Native American Indians survived I’ve no idea, but they were used to it. How on earth those Europeans did is beyond me. You just reminded me of this, thanks so much. 🙂 Jane

    1. Sounds like a powerful memory. It is hard to even imagine the fortitude of the early pioneers. Many of them would not have survived the early forays without the help of The Native Americans who knew how to survive in the lands that were their homes for thousands of years. Truly incredible history.

      1. I know I often think that when visiting some of the less populated areas which I have done on various tours of the US. Always amazes me and the generosity of the First Nation has always inspired me, so amazing that in the end it counted for nothing. Thanks for this and your blog, love it.

  47. Pingback: “Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1849,” by Kenneth L. Holmes | Eslkevin's Blog

    1. Thank you so much. I am very pleased that the book is getting the attention it deserves. There is a book series of these first person narratives from pioneer women and they are all fascinating and important to read.

  48. Looks fascinating. Too many modern history books are novelised versions and lack the ring of truth your excerpts have. Yet more evidence of the myth of the ‘frail’ females.

    1. Yes, I agree with you. Truth is far more amazing than fiction. Plus, I have read the entire collection now, and these women are role models to be incredibly proud of. We really never learned about them which is a huge loss for everyone.

  49. Pingback: AB’s Awesomeness Award – Thank you all | Perspectives on Life, the Universe and Everything

  50. What a fascinating blog. I did not know much about paternal grandfather until I moved to Texas and then discovered that my great-grandparents had moved to McKinney, TX in a covered wagon where they married. I can only imagine the hardships they went through back in the 1800s. After I researched this, I visited the library in McKinney to look for their marriage certificate. The lady was overwhelmed that someone with a Scottish accent, that looked like me, could have great grandparents from McKinney! I take great delight in letting people know that I am probably more Texan than they are…

    1. That is so incredibly cool! The Scottish Texan, I love it, especially since my paternal grandmother was a proud Scot. You grandparents experience sounds fascinating. Don’t you wish we had gotten your grandmother’s story?

      1. I like the term, “interesting temperament!” It is a suitably non-definitive term for a scary relative. I have some “interesting” relatives too! Who doesn’t! 😉 😉

  51. Pingback: Fascinating, first person narratives (letters, diaries) written by pioneer women... - Urban Angels

  52. Thanks, Cindy, for sharing this review of what sounds like an intensely interesting book. Mr. Holmes seems to have found a subject that needs to be written about more often. It reminds me a bit of the “Little House” series, only stressing the women’s views more.

    1. Yes, some similarities to Laura Ingalls Wilder, but definitely written by and for, an adult perspective. Holmes did a whole series of books on pioneer women’s personal narratives and they are all fascinating. Glad you enjoyed the review my friend and cheers to you~

  53. Cindy thanks so much for popping over to my blog and liking my short story, Under Cover. Much appreciated. Have a fab week, I’ll be back soon I am sure. love your blog.

  54. Your review prompted me to buy the book and I have to tell you how much I am enjoying it. I just finished Elizabeth Dixon Smith’s diary last night and it was amazing. I really got a sense of what the trip west was like. The details of weather and distance traveled put other books and movies into perspective. Thanks for the tip!

    1. Plus didn’t the intelligence of these female pioneer/adventurers strike you? They were so observant of their surroundings and made such detailed notes. I read all the books in the series and ended up with a profound appreciation of these women.

      1. Yes! I marvel that they had the energy to write during the trip. I write a lot of detail, but I take a lot of pictures to remind me and I use a voice recorder to remember it at night!

        I am wondering why so many otherwise healthy people, got sick and died mysteriously. Bad water?

      2. Imagine, seven months on the trail, living on baking soda biscuits, small quantities of dried game, no fruit, vegetables or dairy for weeks on end. Limited water. Physically and emotionally grueling long days. Uncertainty everyday. I am far more surprised any of them survived at all and I agree the letter writing and documenation was genius on their part because it gave us these amazing narratives, so they, and their experience would not be forgotten. Cheers to you Dinata and so pleased you read and heard their voices.

      1. Hi Dear Cindy, I have been painting with acrylic…just had to stay off my computer as much… If I sit to long ..everything hurts when I get up…I am a messy painter that why digital is so great…my darling dogs have some pretty painted tails..lol
        See You soon…love your work Sweet Friend and photographer

  55. You are absolutely right. I have a bookshelf full of these accounts, and they are riveting. I think of that saying–that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. Not so different for the pioneer women. Thanks for sharing, Cindy.

    1. Exactly, they were doctors, naturalists, documentarians, animal managers, trail breakers, river-fording explorers. They were mothers, cooks, defenders, they gave birth on the trails, they adopted children of people who died. They were incredible.

    1. Yes they do open your eyes and mind, and they make you stop and think. How could these women have been so tough, so intelligent, and so compassionate? How come we never grew up learning about what they really did? Seems pretty central to history doesn’t it? Makes it too clear about how many other peoples historical perspectives we haven’t adequately heard, and that is sad.

  56. Women today don’t know how easy they have it! I have to yell at my wife twice sometimes to get me my beer from the fridge while I watch my football. (Joke, of course, please don’t take it seriously!) Now, true factoid I believe, learned from Norm at Cheers, the once great automobile company Studebaker previously made such wagons in the 1800s.

    1. WOW! That’s amazing and very good news. People are started to read this obscure and almost forgotten book. It means people are learning about the historically under-examined bravery and brilliance of pioneer women.

  57. Bonjour mon amie CINDY que c’était beau le temps du farts West
    C’est l’heure pour moi de passer.
    Dans ton bel univers déposer un petit
    Commentaire d’amitié te dire que je ne t’oublie pas
    Malgré mon absence ou si peu sur le net
    Si chacune de mes pensées
    Se transformeraient en fleurs
    Chaque jour un bouquet
    Viendrait embellir ta demeure

    C’ est toute la douceur de leurs parfums
    Que je t’envoie!!!! rien qu’à toi.
    gros bisous.Bernard

  58. Thank you for reading my ‘tame’ shenanigans…Tales from the old West sound fascinating – makes living in a large portion of today’s world so easy…Hats off to the feisty women who experienced such hardships. Cheers. x .

  59. This is such an appropriate post for this week and the book looks fascinating. These pioneer women were either tough as nails or, as I’ve read often happened, died somewhere along the journey to the West. My maternal grandmother was cut from the same mold–self educated, an innately curious woman who could hold her own in a conversation on any topic. She was a farm lady with a library and 25 subscriptions to periodicals and would always be up reading until 1:00 AM every morning. Living in an isolated area of the Appalachian mountains, she was also a midwife and had a story about riding a horse through drifting snow–that was up to the horses body–in order to deliver a baby. I’ve always felt that women are these amazing creatures who are far stronger than men in so many ways.

  60. Bonjour ou bonsoir BELLE CINDY
    voici mon petit message de ce jour
    Pour embellir ta journée ou ta soirée
    Où les mots ne sont que bonheur
    Pour une douce journée en douceur ou une nuit de rêves
    Avec tendresse et amitié
    L’amitié c’ est comme l’oiseau
    $i tu la laisses s’envoler
    tu auras du mal à la rattraper
    L’amitié est un joyau
    Comme les battements du cœurs
    Le bonheur, comme tous les délices
    N’est entier que lorsqu’il est partagé
    Je te souhaite une agréable journée OU soirée

  61. Bonjour mon Ami ou Amie CINDY
    Il y a des mots que l’on écrit sur une feuille de papier
    Comme enchantement la feuille se remplie
    Il y a aussi des mots que l’on tape sur son clavier
    C’est, ces émotions que je te fais partager
    Car se sont des mots d’Amitié avec du bonheur
    Passe une Bonne et agréable journée
    Une belle fête de Pâques à venir avec ta famille
    Gros bisous

  62. Bonjour BELLE CINDY
    IL EST :
    Libre de penser, de rire et d’aimer
    IL FAUT :
    Profiter des secondes de bonheur
    IL FAUT:
    Savoir dire non, oser et choisir
    de si peu de chose, d’avoir
    d’un peu de courage si j’ose
    On SAIT que
    La vie n’est pas toujours facile,
    Mais il suffit de redresser la tête,
    D’affronter certaines adversités,
    Avec beaucoup de sincérité
    Belle journée bonne semaine à venir Bernard BISOUS

  63. Bonjour BELLE CINDY
    Le joli mai a pointé son nez depuis quelques jours

    Mai est si gai d’habitude que les fleurs s’en amusent
    Le muguet en premier, il sourit par son parfum
    Lui le lilas rit aux éclats

    Mai est un mois ivres des senteurs, de liberté
    Les oiseaux sifflent à cœur joie
    Le joli mois de mai joue avec le soleil
    fait bondir et danser les enfants
    Le mois de mai réveille le printemps qui dormait
    c’est la fête des prairies, des parcs, des arbres
    des sous bois, ou se cache muguet dans ses feuilles vertes

    Mais MAI chez moi nous a réservé une surprise la semaine dernière
    Les toits , champs , arbres ce sont retrouvés sous une couche de neige

    Gros bisous
    Belle journée , bonne semaine

  64. Nena

    I would like to find a copy of my however many great Aunts diary of her family’s journey by wagon from Oklahoma to Southern CA. I’m not sure of the year although I believe it was later than the1850s. Their last name was Waugh. She was a young girl at the time and documented their journey to California. She Married into the Cook family and her sister married into the Gibson Family. Naturally her direct descendants ended up with the diary. In the 1970s the Cooks donated the diary to a museum. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to get a copy of it before they handed it over.
    They forgot that it was also a documentation of our ancestors journey written by her older sister.

    1. Oh my. I feel terrible that you don’t have a copy. Do you know which museum it was donated to? Such a history in the family would be incredible thing to read and pass on to future generations. I would like to read it. Have you tried googling her name under women pioneer narratives? And maybe female pioneer narrative archives, where you can look for her name. If you read this series of books you may find some leads on where to look for narrative to see if it is included in a digital record. The author did a lot of archive digging too and you can read about that for leads. I am sorry that you don’t have this record. If you find it, I would love to read it.

  65. Hi Cindy, I was searching for the actual title of this series of books and the search engine brought me here. As I dug a bit deeper, I was interested to see that this series is now in paperback (& did I see Kindle, too?) It sure brought back memories of my late husband who collected this sort of literature. We were subscribed to get the original hard cover printed copies of all 11 volumes as they were released. Mind you, this goes back decades! Makes me wish I hadn’t sold them after my husband died. They certainly were quite the adventure. I imagine rereading them might just give us all a bit of perspective on “hardship”!

    Thank you for the post. It was highly interesting and informative. 🙏

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