1: Woman as a Pioneer
Preface || 2: The Frontier-Line—Woman's Work in Floods and Storms >>
Every battle has its unnamed heroes. The common soldier enters the stormed
fortress and, falling in the breach which his valor has made, sleeps in a
nameless grave. The subaltern whose surname is scarcely heard beyond the
roll-call on parade, bears the colors of his company where the fight is
hottest. And the corporal who heads his file in the final charge, is
forgotten in the "earthquake shout" of the victory which he has helped to
win. The victory may be due as much, or more, to the patriot courage of him
who is content to do his duty in the rank and file, as to the dashing
colonel who heads the regiment, or even to the general who plans the
campaign: and yet unobserved, unknown, and unrewarded the former passes
into oblivion while the leader's name is on every tongue, and perhaps goes
down in history as that of one who deserved well of his country.
Our comparison is a familiar one. There are other battles and armies
besides those where thousands of disciplined men move over the ground to
the sounds of the drum and fife. Life itself is a battle, and no grander
army has ever been set in motion since the world began than that which for
more than two centuries and a half has been moving across our continent
from the Atlantic to the Pacific, fighting its way through countless
hardships and dangers, bearing the banner of civilization, and building a
new republic in the wilderness.
In this army woman has been too often the unnamed heroine.
Let us not forget her now. Her patience, her courage, her fortitude, her
tact, her presence of mind in trying hours; these are the shining virtues
which we have to record. Woman as a pioneer standing beside her
rougher, stronger companion—man; first on the voyage across a stormy
ocean, from England to America; then at Plymouth, and Jamestown, and all
the settlements first planted by Europeans on our Coast; then through the
trackless wilderness, onward across the continent, till every river has
been forded, and every chain of mountains has been scaled, the Peaceful
Ocean has been reached, and fifty thousand cities, towns, and hamlets all
over the land have been formed from those aggregations of household life
where woman's work has been wrought out to its fullness.
Among all the characteristics of woman there is none more marked than the
self-devotion which she displays in what she believes is a righteous cause,
or where for her loved ones she sacrifices herself. In India we see her
wrapped in flames and burned to ashes with the corpse of her husband. Under
the Moslem her highest condition is a life-long incarceration. She
patiently places her shoulders under the burden which the aboriginal lord
of the American forest lays upon them. Calmly and in silence she submits to
the onerous duties imposed upon her by social and religious laws.
Throughout the whole heathen world she remained, in the words of an elegant
French writer, "anonymous, indifferent to herself, and leaving no trace of
her passage upon earth."
The benign spirit of Christianity has lifted woman from the position she
held under other religious systems and elevated her to a higher sphere. She
is brought forward as a teacher; she displays a martyr's courage in the
presence of pestilence, or ascends the deck of the mission-ship to take her
part in "perils among the heathen." She endures the hardships and faces the
dangers of colonial life with a new sense of her responsibility as a wife
and mother. In all these capacities, whether teaching, ministering to the
sick, or carrying the Gospel to the heathen, she shows the same
self-devotion as in "the brave days of old;" it is this quality which
peculiarly fits her to be the pioneer's companion in the new world, and by
her works in that capacity she must be judged.
If all true greatness should be estimated by the good it performs, it is
peculiarly desirable that woman's claims to distinction should thus be
estimated and awarded. In America her presence has been acknowledged, and
her aid faithfully rendered from the beginning. In the era of colonial
life; in the cruel wars with the aborigines; in the struggle of the
Revolution; in the western march of the army of exploration and settlement,
a grateful people must now recognize her services.
There is a beautiful tradition, that the first foot which pressed the
snow-clad rock of Plymouth was that of Mary Chilton, a fair young maiden,
and that the last survivor of those heroic pioneers was Mary Allerton, who
lived to see the planting of twelve out of the thirteen colonies, which
formed the nucleus of these United States.
In the Mayflower, nineteen wives accompanied their husbands to a
waste land and uninhabited, save by the wily and vengeful savage. On the
unfloored hut, she who had been nurtured amid the rich carpets and curtains
of the mother-land, rocked her new-born babe, and complained not. She, who
in the home of her youth had arranged the gorgeous shades of embroidery,
or, perchance, had compounded the rich venison pasty, as her share in the
housekeeping, now pounded the coarse Indian corn for her children's bread,
and bade them ask God's blessing, ere they took their scanty portion. When
the snows sifted through the miserable roof-tree upon her little ones, she
gathered them closer to her bosom; she taught them the Bible, and the
catechism, and the holy hymn, though the war-whoop of the Indian rang
through the wild. Amid the untold hardships of colonial life she infused
new strength into her husband by her firmness, and solaced his weary hours
by her love. She was to him,
"——an undergoing spirit, to bear up
Against whate'er ensued."
The names of these nineteen pioneer-matrons should be engraved in letters
of gold on the pillars of American history:
The Wives of the Pilgrims.
Mrs. Catharine Carver.
Mrs. Dorothy Bradford.
Mrs. Elizabeth Winslow.
Mrs. Mary Brewster.
Mrs. Mary Allerton.
Mrs. Elizabeth Hopkins.
Mrs. ——— Tilley.
Mrs. ——— Tilley.
Mrs. ——— Ticker.
Mrs. ——— Ridgdale.
Mrs. Rose Standish.
Mrs. ——— Martin.
Mrs. ——— Mullins.
Mrs. Susanna White.
Mrs. ——— Eaton.
Mrs. ——— Chilton.
Mrs. ——— Fuller.
Mrs. Helen Billington.
Mrs. Lucretia Brewster.
Nor should the names of the daughters of these heroic women be forgotten,
who, with their mothers and fathers shared the perils of that winter's
voyage, and bore, with their parents, the toils, and hardships, and changes
of the infant colony.
The Daughters of the Pilgrim Mothers.
The voyage of the Mayflower; the landing upon a desolate coast in
the dead of winter; the building of those ten small houses, with oiled
paper for windows; the suffering of that first winter and spring, in which
woman bore her whole share; these were the first steps in the grand
movement which has carried the Anglo-Saxon race across the American
continent. The next steps were the penetration of the wilderness westward
from the sea, by the emigrant pioneers and their wives. Fighting their way
through dense forests, building cabins, block-houses, and churches in the
clearings which they had made; warred against by cruel savages; woman was
ever present to guard, to comfort, to work. The annals of colonial history
teem with her deeds of love and heroism, and what are those recorded
instances to those which had no chronicler? She loaded the flint-lock in
the block-house while it was surrounded by yelling savages; she exposed
herself to the scalping-knife to save her babe; in her forest-home she
worked and watched, far from the loved ones in Old England; and by
discharging a thousand duties in the household and the field, did her share
in a silent way towards building up the young Republic of the West.
Sometimes she ranged herself in battle beside her husband or brother, and
fought with the steadiness and bravery of a veteran. But her heroism never
shone so brightly as in undergoing danger in defense of her children.
In the early days of the settlement of Royalton, Vermont, a sudden attack
was made upon it by the Indians. Mrs. Hendee, the wife of one of the
settlers, was working alone in the field, her husband being absent on
military duty, when the Indians entered her house and capturing her
children carried them across the White river, at that place a hundred yards
wide and quite deep for fording, and placed them under keepers who had some
other persons, thirty or forty in number, in charge.
Returning from the field Mrs. Hendee discovered the fate of her children.
Her first outburst of grief was heart-rending to behold, but this was only
transient; she ceased her lamentations, and like the lioness who has been
robbed of her litter, she bounded on the trail of her plunderers.
Resolutely dashing into the river, she stemmed the current, planting her
feet firmly on the bottom and pushed across. With pallid face, flashing
eyes, and lips compressed, maternal love dominating every fear, she strode
into the Indian camp, regardless of the tomahawks menacingly flourished
round her head, boldly demanded the release of her little ones, and
persevered in her alternate upbraidings and supplications, till her request
was granted. She then carried her children back through the river and
landed them in safety on the other bank.
Not content with what she had done, like a patriot as she was, she
immediately returned, begged for the release of the children of others,
again was rewarded with success, and brought two or three more away; again
returned, and again succeeded, till she had rescued the whole fifteen of
her neighbors' children who had been thus snatched away from their
distracted parents. On her last visit to the camp of the enemy, the Indians
were so struck with her conduct that one of them declared that so brave a
squaw deserved to be carried across the river, and offered to take her on
his back and carry her over. She, in the same spirit, accepted the offer,
mounted the back of the gallant savage, was carried to the opposite bank,
where she collected her rescued troop of children, and hastened away to
restore them to their overjoyed parents.
During the memorable Wyoming massacre, Mrs. Mary Gould, wife of James
Gould, with the other women remaining in the village of Wyoming, sought
safety in the fort. In the haste and confusion attending this act, she left
her boy, about four years old, behind. Obeying the instincts of a mother,
and turning a deaf ear to the admonitions of friends, she started off on a
perilous search for the missing one. It was dark; she was alone; and the
foe was lurking around; but the agonies of death could not exceed her
agonies of suspense; so she hastened on. She traversed the fields which,
but a few hours before,
"Were trampled by the hurrying crowd,"
"——fiery hearts and armed hands,
Encountered in the battle cloud,"
and where unarmed hands were now resting on cold and motionless hearts.
After a search of between one and two hours, she found her child on the
bank of the river, sporting with a little band of playmates. Clasping her
treasure in her arms, she hurried back and reached the fort in safety.
During the struggles of the Revolution, the privations sustained, and the
efforts made, by women, were neither few nor of short duration. Many of
them are delineated in the present volume. Yet innumerable instances of
faithful toil, and patient endurance, must have been covered with oblivion.
In how many a lone home, from which the father was long sundered by a
soldier's destiny, did the mother labor to perform to their little ones
both his duties and her own, having no witness of the extent of her heavy
burdens and sleepless anxieties, save the Hearer of prayer.
A good and hoary-headed man, who had passed the limits of fourscore, once
said to me, "My father was in the army during the whole eight years of the
Revolutionary War, at first as a common soldier, afterwards as an officer.
My mother had the sole charge of us four little ones. Our house was a poor
one, and far from neighbors. I have a keen remembrance of the terrible cold
of some of those winters. The snow lay so deep and long, that it was
difficult to cut or draw fuel from the woods, or to get our corn to the
mill, when we had any. My mother was the possessor of a coffee-mill. In
that she ground wheat, and made coarse bread, which we ate, and were
thankful. It was not always we could be allowed as much, even of this, as
our keen appetites craved. Many is the time that we have gone to bed, with
only a drink of water for our supper, in which a little molasses had been
mingled. We patiently received it, for we knew our mother did as well for
us as she could; and we hoped to have something better in the morning. She
was never heard to repine; and young as we were, we tried to make her
loving spirit and heavenly trust, our example.
"When my father was permitted to come home, his stay was short, and he had
not much to leave us, for the pay of those who achieved our liberties was
slight, and irregularly given. Yet when he went, my mother ever bade him
farewell with a cheerful face, and told him not to be anxious about his
children, for she would watch over them night and day, and God would take
care of the families of those who went forth to defend the righteous cause
of their country. Sometimes we wondered that she did not mention the cold
weather, or our short meals, or her hard work, that we little ones might be
clothed, and fed, and taught. But she would not weaken his hands, or sadden
his heart, for she said a soldier's life was harder than all. We saw that
she never complained, but always kept in her heart a sweet hope, like a
well of water. Every night ere we slept, and every morning when we arose,
we lifted our little hands for God's blessing on our absent father, and our
"How deeply the prayers from such solitary homes and faithful hearts were
mingled with the infant liberties of our dear native land, we may not know
until we enter where we see no more 'through a glass darkly, but face to
"Incidents repeatedly occurred during this contest of eight years, between
the feeble colonies and the strong mother-land, of a courage that ancient
Sparta would have applauded.
"In a thinly settled part of Virginia, the quiet of the Sabbath eve was
once broken by the loud, hurried roll of the drum. Volunteers were invoked
to go forth and prevent the British troops, under the pitiless Tarleton,
from forcing their way through an important mountain pass. In an old fort
resided a family, all of whose elder sons were absent with our army, which
at the north opposed the foe. The father lay enfeebled and sick. By his
bedside the mother called their three sons, of the ages of thirteen,
fifteen, and seventeen.
"Go forth, children," said she, "to the defence of your native clime. Go,
each and all of you; I spare not my youngest, my fair-haired boy, the light
of my declining years.
"Go forth, my sons! Repel the foot of the invader, or see my face no more."
In order to get a proper estimate of the greatness of the part which woman
has acted in the mighty onward-moving drama of civilization on this
continent, we must remember too her peculiar physical constitution. Her
highly strung nervous organization and her softness of fiber make labor
more severe and suffering keener. It is an instinct with her to tremble at
danger; her training from girlhood unfits her to cope with the difficulties
of outdoor life. "Men," says the poet, "must work, and women must weep."
But the pioneer women must both work and weep. The toils and hardships of
frontier life write early wrinkles upon her brow and bow her delicate frame
with care. We do not expect to subject our little ones to the toils or
dangers that belong to adults. Labor is pain to the soft fibers and unknit
limbs of childhood, and to the impressible minds of the young, danger
conveys a thousand fears not felt by the firmer natures of older persons.
Hence it is that all mankind admire youthful heroism. The story of
Casabianca on the deck of the burning ship, or of the little wounded
drummer, borne on the shoulders of a musketeer and still beating the
rappel—while the bullets are flying around him—thrill the heart of
man because these were great and heroic deeds performed by striplings. It
is the bravery and firmness of the weak that challenges the highest
admiration. This is woman's case: and when we see her matching her strength
and courage against those of man in the same cause, with equal results,
what can we do but applaud?
A European traveler lately visited the Territory of Montana—abandoning the
beaten trail, in company only with an Indian guide, for he was a bold and
fearless explorer. He struck across the mountains, traveling for two days
without seeing the sign of a human being. Just at dusk, on the evening of
the second day, he drew rein on the summit of one of those lofty hills
which form the spurs of the Rocky Mountains. The solitude was awful. As far
as the eye could see stretched an unbroken succession of mountain peaks,
bare of forest—a wilderness of rocks with stunted trees at their base, and
deep ravines where no streams were running. In all this desolate scene
there was no sign of a living thing. While they were tethering their horses
and preparing for the night, the sharp eyes of the Indian guide caught
sight of a gleam of light at the bottom of a deep gorge beneath them.
Descending the declivity, they reached a cabin rudely built of dead wood,
which seemed to have been brought down by the spring rains from the
hill-sides to the west. Knocking at the door, it was opened by a woman,
holding in her arms a child of six months. The woman appeared to be fifty
years of age, but she was in reality only thirty. Casting a searching look
upon the traveler and his companion, she asked them to enter.
The cabin was divided into two apartments, a kitchen, which also served for
a store-room, dining-room, and sitting-room; the other was the chamber, or
rather bunk-room, where the family slept. Five children came tumbling out
from this latter apartment as the traveler entered, and greeted him with a
stare of childlike curiosity. The woman asked them to be seated on blocks
of wood, which served for chairs, and soon threw off her reserve and told
them her story, while they awaited the return of her husband from the
nearest village, some thirty miles distant, whither he had gone the day
before to dispose of the gold-dust which he had "panned out" from a gulch
near by. He was a miner. Four years before he had come with his family from
the East, and pushing on in advance of the main movement of emigration in
the territory, had discovered a rich gold placer in this lonely gorge.
While he had been working in this placer, his wife had with her own hands
turned up the soil in the valley below and raised all the corn and potatoes
required for the support of the family; she had done the housework, and had
made all the clothes for the family. Once when her husband was sick, she
had ridden thirty miles for medicine. It was a dreary ride, she said, for
the road, or rather trail, was very rough, and her husband was in a burning
fever. She left him in charge of her oldest child, a girl of eleven years,
but she was a bright, helpful little creature, able to wait upon the sick
man and feed the other children during the two days' absence of her mother.
Next summer they were to build a house lower down the valley and would be
joined by three other families of their kindred from the East. "Have you
never been attacked by the Indians?" inquired the traveler.
"Only three times," she replied. "Once three prowling red-skins came to the
door, in the night, and asked for food. My husband handed them a loaf of
bread through the window, but they refused to go away and lurked in the
bushes all night; they were stragglers from a war-party, and wanted more
scalps. I saw them in the moonlight, armed with rifles and tomahawks, and
frightfully painted. They kindled a fire a hundred yards below our cabin
and stayed there all night, as if they were watching for us to come out,
but early in the morning they disappeared, and we saw them no more.
"Another time, a large war-party of Indians encamped a mile below us, and a
dozen of them came up and surrounded the house. Then we thought we were
lost: they amused themselves aiming at marks in the logs, or at the chimney
and windows; we could hear their bullets rattle against the rafters, and
you can see the holes they made in the doors. One big brave took a large
stone and was about to dash it against the door, when my husband pointed
his rifle at him through the window, and he turned and ran away. We should
have all been killed and scalped if a company of soldiers had not come up
the valley that day with an exploring party and driven the red-skins away.
"One afternoon as my husband was at work in the diggings, two red-skins
came up to him and wounded him with arrows, but he caught up his rifle and
soon made an end of them.
"When we first came there was no end of bears and wolves, and we could hear
them howling all night long. Winter nights the wolves would come and drum
on the door with their paws and whine as if they wanted to eat up the
children. Husband shot ten and I shot six, and after that we were troubled
no more with them.
"We have no schools here, as you see," continued she; "but I have taught my
three oldest children to read since we came here, and every Sunday we have
family prayers. Husband reads a verse in the Bible, and then I and the
children read a verse in turn, till we finish a whole chapter. Then I make
the children, all but baby, repeat a verse over and over till they have it
by heart; the Scripture promises do comfort us all, even the littlest one
who can only lisp them.
"Sometimes on Sunday morning I take all the children to the top of that
hill yonder and look at the sun as it comes up over the mountains, and I
think of the old folks at home and all our friends in the East. The hardest
thing to bear is the solitude. We are awful lonesome. Once, for eighteen
months, I never saw the face of a white person except those of my husband
and children. It makes me laugh and cry too when I see a strange face. But
I am too busy to think much about it daytimes. I must wash, and boil, and
bake, or look after the cows which wander off in search of pasture; or go
into the valley and hoe the corn and potatoes, or cut the wood; for husband
makes his ten or fifteen dollars a day panning out dust up the mountain,
and I know that whenever I want him I have only to blow the horn and he
will come down to me. So I tend to business here and let him get gold. In
five or six years we shall have a nice house farther down and shall want
for nothing. We shall have a saw-mill next spring started on the run below,
and folks are going to join us from the States."
The woman who told this story of dangers and hardships amid the Rocky
Mountains was of a slight, frail figure. She had evidently been once
possessed of more than ordinary attractions; but the cares of maternity and
the toils of frontier life had bowed her delicate frame and engraved
premature wrinkles upon her face: she was old before her time, but her
spirit was as dauntless and her will to do and dare for her loved ones was
as firm as that of any of the heroines whom history has made so famous. She
had been reared in luxury in one of the towns of central New York, and till
she was eighteen years old had never known what toil and trouble were.
Her husband was a true type of the American explorer and possessed in his
wife a fit companion; and when he determined to push his fortune among the
Western wilds she accompanied him cheerfully; already they had accumulated
five thousand dollars, which was safely deposited in the bank; they were
rearing a band of sturdy little pioneers; they had planted an outpost in a
region teeming with mineral wealth, and around them is now growing up a
thriving village of which this heroic couple are soon to be the patriarchs.
All honor to the names of Mr. and Mrs. James Manning, the pioneers of
The traveler and his guide, declining the hospitality which this brave
matron tendered them, soon returned to their camp on the hill-top; but the
Englishman made notes of the pioneer woman's story, and pondered over it,
for he saw in it an epitome of frontier life.
If a tourist were to pass to-day beyond the Mississippi River, and journey
over the wagon-roads which lead Westward towards the Rocky Mountains, he
would see moving towards the setting sun innumerable caravans of emigrants'
canvas-covered wagons, bound for the frontier. In each of these wagons is a
man, one or two women with children, agricultural tools, and household
gear. At night the horses or oxen are tethered or turned loose on the
prairie; a fire is kindled with buffalo chips, or such fuel as can be had,
and supper is prepared. A bed of prairie grass suffices for the man, while
the women and children rest in the covered wagon. When the morning dawns
they resume their Westward journey. Weeks, months, sometimes, roll by
before the wagon reaches its destination; but it reaches it at last. Then
begin the struggle, and pains, the labors, and dangers of border life, in
all of which woman bears her part. While the primeval forest falls before
the stroke of the man-pioneer, his companion does the duty of both man and
woman at home. The hearthstone is laid, and the rude cabin rises. The
virgin soil is vexed by the ploughshare driven by the man; the garden and
house, the dairy and barns are tended by the woman, who clasps her babe
while she milks, and fodders, and weeds. Danger comes when the man is away;
the woman must meet it alone. Famine comes, and the woman must eke out the
slender store, scrimping and pinching for the little ones; sickness comes,
and the woman must nurse and watch alone, and without the sympathy of any
of her sex. Fifty miles from a doctor or a friend, except her weary and
perhaps morose husband, she must keep strong under labor, and be patient
under suffering, till death. And thus the household, the hamlet, the
village, the town, the city, the state, rise out of her "homely toils, and
destiny obscure." Truly she is one of the founders of the Republic.
Preface || 2: The Frontier-Line—Woman's Work in Floods and Storms >>