"I will keep close to my gun and dog"

I'm reading a book called Frontier Women: The Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-1880. And as naturally follows with me, getting a teensy bit obsessed with the topic and looking at everything i can find about pioneer women.

It is fascinating to imagine lovely well-dressed middle-class society women taking off across a wild and untamed land.

okay, not that this fine lady would have, presumably being a new york actress or model, but still the photo transports me to another time and age and set of societal norms and values.

I love reading about the pioneer ladies' concern for clothing and fashion: "The woman who started out in a traveling dress with clean collar and cuffs soon found she had to abandon it for clothes she had originally refused to wear."

I imagine a lady starting out like this perhaps:

and evenutally replacing her silks and linens with the more practical calico and linsey-woolsey, becoming this (which i sort of like better)

One woman wrote in her diary about fashion on the westward journey:
"As the days lengthened into weeks, our self-respect suffered in the matter of clothes," describing her skirt as "a wide piece of fringe hanging from belt to hem." Another woman wrote, "we were so worn out that we were not particular about how we were dressed but presented a mixture of fashions."  And I love the way Luzena Wilson (that name!) described this encounter with a man in a clean white shirt who "revived in me the languishing spark of womanly vanity," as she realized that her tattered skirts were "worn off in rags above my ankles," her face sunburnt, her hands "brown and hard;" she shrank away from his sight modestly.

The Languishing Spark of Womanly Vanity!
I love it!

 This next wonderful book i've had forever but am only now fully perusing as a visual accompaniment to the reading. (i'm lucky enough to have a mom that works at the library and often brings me home books that have been discarded or donated.)

i'm completely bewtiched by this photo:
and it becomes even more haunting as i read stories of the white settlers' intolerance of their native neighbors (even the women, despite their supposed christian charity!) maybe part of that suspicion and fear came from a distrust of the sort of pride and freedom with which this amazing native woman carries herself upon the back of her lovely little burro.

here's another beauty.


But I guess camping out left 19th-century white women feeling too vulnerable and frightened and exhausted to make friends:

These women went from having massive female support systems and being completely entrenched in the patriarchal system of domesticity in which a woman's "voice is gentle; her pronunciation is delicate; her passions are never suffered to be boistrous...she never foams with anger; she is seldom seen in any masculine amusement" to having moved out into vast territories of isolation and then almost single-handedly setting up homes and creating culture and society anew as their husbands hunted and farmed the new land.

I'll let these amazing photographs tell the stories:

I find an enduring patience and kindness and love emanates from the eyes of these women.
And playfulness! The woman shooting milk into her cat's mouth = most adorable thing ever.
I love the cats in the last photo too, lazing around on their lady's lap. It makes me wonder how and when the cats came west?! I surely don't think they made the overland journey by wagon train...

On a related note, I recently discoverd this site called "Old picture of the day" where you can find a different antique photograph each day, depicting scenes from the old west and other bits of interesting life in the late 19th to early 20th-centuries. Click on the photo to get to the link if you don't mind whiling away some hours! These photos are seriously addictive.

Even though one lady wrote in her diary, "This gypsy life is anything but agreeable. It is impossible to keep anything clean and it is with difficulty that you do what you have to do," I still get to daydreaming and even admittedly romanticizing that long-ago most life-changing journey. Although not a fan of what was so-called Manifest Destiny, and skeptical at best about the way that settlers encountered native inhabitants of the land, I still find it valuable and inspiring to learn about this compelling time in American history, especially from a woman's perspective.

Oh and by the way my outfit the other rainy blustery day was partially inspired by old west women and partially by the book about gypsies that I've also been devouring:

Geez, all this talk about the wild west makes me realize how damn easy we've got it when we can wear and even photograph any outfit we dream up! Welcome to the new millenium.


Anonymous said…
What an amazing post! Thank you so much for taking the time to do all of the photos. Very inspiring!
Teenysparkles said…
Just imagine their hardship, we certainly are lucky. A very thought provoking post! And love your inspired outfit.
Missa said…
Oh my gosh, that little lady below the woman on the burro... is it wrong to want to put her in my pocket and take her everywhere with me?

Incredible post Heather, the book sounds fascinating!

What book about gypsies are you reading? I'm currently reading The Gypsies by Jan Yoors and it's AMAZING.

Loving your outfit too, a wonderful merging of inspirations!
Milla said…
This is fascinating! The images are amazing, I really want to read these books. I'm reading one about the pioneers here on the Islands, and its really amazing.

Also, that maxi dress rocks!
Hey missa, the book on gypsies is more like a photograph book; it's called Gypsies: Wanderers of the World and i think it's from the 1970s. i will probably be posting images from it; they're gorgeous. and now i'm going to look into the one you're reading, sounds good.

milla, i have been reading in my frontier women book about settlers on whidbey island, a place i've been and absolutely LOVE. i am so accustomed to thinking of prairie settlers...island settlers are a whole different story and fascinating!
Amy Beatty said…
heather, you look so cozy and lovely, the perfect combo. I love history. I wish I could have more of a pioneer lifestyle. Those women are just beautiful and AMAZING!
amy you would make such a great pioneer! i think of you sometimes while i'm reading that book, which by the way i picked up at DI of course!
I love that I grew up on the Little House on the Prairie books, gave me a deep respect for the pioneers from an early age.
Loved the post!
Also, I so hear ya on the difficult issues with the relationship between the settlers and the Aboriginal peoples. I recently discovered that I am Metis, a fact that was hidden from me till now. It's sad to me that this was once (and for some still is) something to be ashamed about.
An ancestor of mine wrote a few books in the 1800's, they're sorta autobiographical. I'm loving reading them, it's just like a window into the past. They can be pretty slow at times, but his name was A.C. Garrioch, might make for an interesting google, I can't really remember what's out there :) Not quite as interesting as getting a womans perspective though!
i can't help continually being amazed by how much alike we are! i am the exact same way: 'And as naturally follows with me, getting a teensy bit obsessed with the topic and looking at everything i can find...'
me too heather, me too :)

love the photos girlie!
What awesome photos - I have a couple like this of my travelling family in Scotland and it's amazing how similar the images are of travellers and native americans and all the people who lived in bell tents or tipis or wagons, sitting round the campfire....
Violet Folklore said…
Oh Heather I LOVE this post! Those photos are amazing! I so do the same thing- read a novel or magazine article or something and get obsessed with a topic I previously had little to no interest in. The westward expansion has very much been on my mind and my night stand for a while now. I must read these books! Thank you so much for sharing the lovely photos, I am going to go check out that link now! Much love to you gorgeous gypsy sister.

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