All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

I started Cats and a Book to share the books I read with others. Some I love, some I don't, but you may love the ones I don't, so you're welcome to post your own comments and suggestions.

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Happy reading!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Letters of a Woman Homesteader, by Elinore Pruitt Stewart

Letters of a Woman Homesteader is a rare collection of personal letters from Elinore Stewart to "Mrs. Coney," a woman who had previously employed Ms. Stewart as a housekeeper and laundress.  Candid, engaging, and full of adventure, Stewart's letters reveal what Western life was like for a woman in the early 1900s. 

Stewart moved to Denver with her two-year-old daughter Jerrine following the death of her husband, and placing an advertisement in the local newspaper, found work as a housekeeper for a Scottish rancher in Wyoming.  She made a claim for her own farm adjacent to his, and although they eventually married, she retained a good deal of her independence and became a helpful if not equal hand managing their adjacent properties. 

The letters are full of narratives that describe Stewart's life in the West. She tells of meeting Zebulon Pike Parker, also a displaced Southerner like the author, who went West after the war and "jist stayed."  When Parker learned that the love of his life had died while he was away from home, he poetically said, "I am not sorry Pauline is dead.  I have never shed a tear.  I know you think that is odd, but I have never wanted to mourn. ( . . . ) I am happy and at peace because I know she is mine. ( . . . ) So I have not lost her, she is mine more than ever." 

Stewart also writes of encounters with people of many ethnicities and countries of origin, including Mr. Stewart himself with his Scottish brogue, Mrs. O'Shaughnessy, the Mexican couple who offered them shelter on a long trip one night, the Mormon families who were in need of supplies while their men were away.  They formed a tolerant, interdependent community.

The author encouraged other women to become "homesteaders" like herself, and wrote, "To me, homesteading is the solution of all poverty's problems, but I realize that temperament has much to do with success in any undertaking, and persons afraid of coyotes and work and loneliness had better let ranching alone.  At the same time, any woman who can stand her own company, can see the beauty of the sunset, loves growing things, and is willing to put in as much time at careful labor as she does over the wash tub, will certainly succeed; will have independence, plenty to eat all the time, and a home of her own in the end."

Letters of a Woman Homesteader is a time capsule, but holds lessons for the present, as well. Illustrated by N.C. Wyeth and published in 1914 by Houghton Mifflin, the book is also available electronically.

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