Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart
Bison Books (University of Nebraska Press)
Copyright 1961; Originally published 1914
About noon the first day out we came near a sheep-wagon, and stalking along ahead of us was a lanky fellow, a herder, going home for dinner. Suddenly it seemed to me I should starve if I had to wait until we got where we had planned to stop for dinner, so I called out to the man, "Little Bo-Peep, have you anything to eat? If you have, we'd like to find it." And he answered, "As soon as I am able, it shall be on the table, if you'll but trouble to get behind it." [p.8]
After two more such days I "arrived." When I went up to the office where I was to file, the door was open and the most taciturn old man sat before a desk. I hesitated at the door, but he never let on. I coughed, yet no sign but a deeper scowl. I stepped in and modestly kicked over a chair. He whirled around like I had shot him. "Well?" he interrogated. I said, "I am powerful glad of it. I was afraid you were sick, you looked in such pain." He looked at me a minute, then grinned and said he thought I was a book-agent. Fancy me, a fat, comfortable widow, trying to sell books! [p. 12]
In the center of my room is a square table made of pine and stained brown. Over it is a table-cover that you gave me. Against the wall near my bed is my "dresser". It is a box with shelves and is covered with the same material as my screen. Above it I have a mirror, but it makes ugly faces at me every time I look into it. [p. 141]
It has always been a theory of mine that when we become sorry for ourselves we make our misfortunes harder to bear, because we lose courage and can't think without bias; so I cast about me for something to be glad about . . . [p. 238]
What led you to pick up this book? I snatched up all the history books off my mother's shelves while I was working on cleaning out her house (it's okay; my sister is not a reader and was happy to see them go). I love reading about pioneers in the American West because they had such spirit and were willing to work incredibly hard to create a new life. I picked this one up because it looked fun and I was stuck in bed with a minor back injury over the weekend.
Describe the book without giving anything away. Letters of a Woman Homesteader is a series of letters written by a young widow and mother who left her job in Denver to work as a housekeeper for a rancher in Wyoming, her goal being to learn from him and eventually file for and work her own land. Elinore Stewart wrote the letters to her former employer in Denver, Juliet Coney, and they are incredibly lively, full of stories about her adventures and about the other homesteaders around her.
What did you like most about the book? I loved everything about it, but particularly the strong character of the woman who wrote the letters. Elinore was sharp-witted, extremely upbeat, hard-working, humble and adventurous. She married the rancher she set out to work for within 6 weeks, and then their affection for each other slowly grew, but at the same time she "maintained her independence by filing for land adjacent to that of her husband and proving it up herself" (from the cover blurb). There were many things to admire about the resourceful and independent woman who told her story in this series of letters.
Share a favorite scene from the book: I've quoted from several favorites, but I also loved her description of a camping trip she and her young daughter took into the mountains. The scenery was described vividly and with such beauty that it was easy to visualize. And, she was so incredibly enthusiastic about the simple food and coffee of camp life that I actually began to crave roasted potatoes. My husband was soaking some ribs, so I asked him to start up a fire and slow roast some potatoes in the ashes, as Elinore did overnight, and cook some baked beans. He did as I asked and ohmygosh. I'd forgotten food could be that good. I highly recommend cooking camp food while you read this book.
Both thumbs up - Fantastic reading. Elinore Stewart was a woman of great character and a phenomenal storyteller. In a world where people "create" their own parking spaces in order to avoid having to walk 50 yards farther across a parking lot, it's refreshing to read about a hardworking woman who not only could do anything and everything she set her hand to but loved every minute of it. Definitely one of the best books I've read, this year.
A RICE and books weekend: I mentioned being laid up, this weekend, but I have to tell you how that came about. I was reaching for a load of laundry and threw my back out. This was a new experience for me. I was bent over, totally stuck, and had to holler for my husband to help me stand up and walk to the bedroom, where (recalling the advice of a paramedic friend to use Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation on fresh injuries) I spent two days with a pile of books, an ice-pack and a bottle of muscle relaxants. I slept a great deal, but I also managed to read 3 books, which has simply served to throw me even farther behind on reviews. I am not complaining. I'm going backwards, here, starting with the book most recently completed.
Ever met anyone with a Laundry Injury, before? I think it's kind of funny, even though it hurt like the dickens.
Other things I read:
On Friday: Sermons and Soda Water by John O'Hara
Saturday: Entropy by Anthony Lawrence Gordon
Unfinished but working on: In the Clearing by Robert Frost and At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon
I'll finish the Frost, but I've discovered that Robert Frost is just a wee bit too rhyme and rhythm, for my taste. As I was reading a bit of his poetry on Saturday, I thought up a rhyme of my own:
If one could drown in books, then I
Would be the very first to die.
I hope that's original. Next up will be a review of Entropy. Thanks to my sore back, I can't lift and move a pile of books to photograph them, but I hope to be able to do so within a few days; then, you can see some of the other books I dragged home.
Many thanks to Maggie for the delicious pecans!! I was one of the winners in her weekly drawing for the Southern Reading Challenge and I have to tell you . . . it's worth taking on the challenge, just for the chance to win some of those pecans. They are soooo good. Thank you, Maggie!!!
I'll close with a piece of my childhood artwork that seems to fit the book review. While home, I photographed some artwork from elementary school and then tossed it all in the trash. Most everything was rendered on construction paper and was literally falling to pieces. I should mention that teachers at the elementary school of my youth worked closely together, so that when we studied pioneers we drew pioneers and when we studied Greek and Norse gods, we made masks in art and did a play in another class. I loved my elementary education. Here's my drawing of pioneer life:
Bookfool on ice