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Letters of a Woman Homesteader


Letters of a Woman Homesteader


“The quaking aspens were just beginning to turn yellow; everywhere purple asters were a blaze of glory except where the rabbit-bush grew in clumps, waving its feathery plumes of gold. Over it all the sky was so deeply blue, with little, airy, white clouds drifting lazily along. Every breeze brought scents of cedar, pine, and sage…”

This classic account of American frontier living captures the high-spirited soul of a pioneer who set out in 1909 to prove that a woman alone could ranch.

Stewart's captivating letters from her homestead in Wyoming bring to life the beauty, isolation, and joys of working the prairie.

Elinore Pruitt Stewart was the embodiment of the pioneering spirit, and no stranger to hardship. As a child, her parents had died within months of each other, leaving her orphaned.  Later, her husband perished in a railroad accident leaving her alone with an infant to raise.

She decided to make a change and took her little girl away to the wilderness of Wyoming in 1909. 

She is an inspiration in her industriousness:  “I have done most of my cooking at night, have milked seven cows every day, and have done all the hay-cutting, so you see I have been working.  But I have found time to put up thirty pints of jelly and the same amount of jam for myself.”

All the letters are addressed to her friend and former employer in Denver, who seems to have seen more in the letters than their author did.

Her sense of humor is evident throughout her letters, as when she goes to file a claim on her own homestead and needs to resort to “modestly kicking over a chair,” in order to get the land agent to pay attention to her.

Stewart comes across as absolutely contemporary. One can only imagine what she would make of the connectivity that modern communications would have allowed the homesteader. Her letters are a real treasure, a wonderful portrayal of life in the not-so-distantly Old West.

Elinore Pruitt Stewart (1876–1933) was a homesteader in Wyoming, and a memoirist who between 1909 and 1914 wrote letters describing her life there to a former employer in Denver, Colorado. Those letters, which reveal an adventurous, capable, and resourceful woman of lively intelligence, were published in two collections in 1914 and 1915. The first of those collections, Letters of a Woman Homesteader, was the basis of the 1979 movie Heartland.

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