Sunday, January 20, 2019

Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart

Letters of a Woman Homesteader
Elinore Pruitt Stewart
Published 1914

In the early 1900s, Elinore Pruitt lost her husband in a railroad accident and found work as a housecleaner and laundress to support herself and her two-year old daughter, Jerrine. Dissatisfied with her circumstances, and that others were raising her daughter, she decided to try something more challenging and adventurous...homesteading. She took up housekeeping for a cattleman, Mr. Clyde Stewart, on his ranch in Wyoming, and she wrote about her amazing experiences in letters to her former employer; her letters were later published in this book. 

Elinore and Jerrine - N.C. Wyeth
You may wonder what could possibly be  intriguing about letters from a woman homesteader, but this story and how it was told is so satisfying; I shall remember it as one of my favorite reads this year.

Elinore had a love of nature, a strong disposition, and an honest and candid character, providing excellent storytelling, amusing and full of life. She intended to prove that a woman could live an independent, self-sufficient, resourceful and fulfilling life via ranching. She desired to be an example and encouragement to all women willing to try it.

One of the reasons I wanted to read this was to get perspective from another woman who lived far from civilization -- and Elinore did -- to compare it to my last read, Caroline, by Sarah Miller, in which the author imagined Caroline Ingalls battling burdensome feelings of loneliness. In this true account, Elinore proclaimed that she had so much work to do that she did not have time to dwell on her inner thoughts, including those of self-pity or loneliness. She also said,
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 beauty of the sunset, loves growing things, and is willing to put in as much time at careful labor as she does over the washtub, will certainly succeed; will have independence, plenty to eat all the time, and a home of her own in the end. 

Green River, Wyoming ~ Thomas Moran

Elinore was a good neighbor, especially considering that her neighbors were miles and miles away, often compounded by bad weather, dangerous terrain, and occasional threats of wild animals and bands of thieves; but this never hindered her. She recalled interesting, joyous, and sometimes terrifying stories about tending to people living in the wild, providing company for them, and caring for their needs.

She explained:
I can think of nothing that would give me more happiness than to bring the West and its people to others who could not otherwise enjoy them. If I could only take them from whatever is worrying them and give them this bracing mountain air, glimpses of the scenery, a smell of the pines and the sage, - if I could only make them feel the free, ready sympathy and hospitality of these frontier people, I am sure their worries would diminish and my happiness would be complete.

Elinore Pruitt Stewart making hay

She also suffered personal heartbreak and disappointment, though always maintained courage and perseverance. She was grateful for her many blessings.
When you think of me, you must think of me as one who is truly happy. It is true, I want a great many things I haven't got, but I don't want them enough to be discontented and not enjoy the many blessing that are mine. 
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...
Do you wonder I am so happy? When I think of it all, I wonder how I can crowd all my joy into one short life.  
It must be noted that years later she admitted to her employer that she "hastily" married Mr. Stewart, fearing that it would appear to diminish her independence and self-sufficiency. However, if I included the results of the work that she proudly was responsible, you would agree that she had proved herself quite capable.
I just love to experiment, to work, and to prove out things, so that ranch life and "roughing it" just suit me.
Is this book for you?

If you enjoy adventurous stories of pioneers, the American West, and independent women, and you do not mind reading in epistolary format, then this book is for you. Heads up: the language reflects Elinore's time period and may be considered offensive to some readers. There is also a letter describing a meeting with Mormons, which may also be provocative. I think Elinore was intent on witnessing to them, but it did not turn out very well. Other than that, you should experience the full range of life's emotions, shared by a God-honoring, good neighborly woman. And it won't disappoint for one page, I promise.

Elinore Pruitt Stewart 
But when you get among such grandeur you get to feel how little you are and how foolish is human endeavor, except that which reunites us with the mighty force called God.


Hamlette (Rachel) said...


So happy you had a similar experience with this book to mine!

Ruth said...

I loved it so much, I added it to my Personal Canon. I'm also going to watch the film Heartland, via YouTube, based on her letters. BTW, have you read her letters about the elk hunt?

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

WAIT!!! Heartland is on YouTube??? OH JOY! I have been wanting to watch it for simply years. I must needs go find it right away.

Yup, I've read the Elk Hunt book too. It starts out a little stiff, as she was writing those letters knowing that they would be published, but after the first few, she's right back to being engaging and warm and enthusiastic.

Sharon Wilfong said...

This sounds like an authentic voice of the time period. I find people with indomitable spirits inspiring. I'm glad you read this after the Caroline book.

Jean said...

Oh, this is a book I really like. I think I've read it twice. Another, not dissimilar, book you might enjoy is the Shirley Letters, which were written from the California gold mines in 1851-52 -- right up the road from me, actually, but they really are good. And now free on Kindle. :)

Linda said...

I just found your blog and I'm excited to find out what you're reading and maybe read some of the same books myself. Thank you for sharing your literary adventures.

Ruth said...

She was certainly inspiring.I have a feeling...only a feeling...that Caroline was of a similar character - a good neighbor type - though I don't believe she was AS adventurous as Elinore. Nonetheless, I think these pioneer ladies had their work cut out for them, that it left little time to dwell on self-pity. We are a lot more self-centered today, and it gets in the way of reaching our greatest potential.

Ruth said...

I'll check it out. I found this book at my library - used, for sale, and now I've been noticing these kind of stories everywhere.

Ruth said...

Hi,'s my pleasure. Nice to meet you.

Cleo @ Classical Carousel said...

OOOOO, this sounds so good! That's what I love about having book friends; they can find and read the books first and then weed out the treasures! ;-) So glad you found this one!

Luci said...

I love this post, Ruth! Elinore sounds so interesting. And I really like the painting by Thomas Moran that you included: it's stunning!

Ruth said...

You are so right!

This one is a surprisingly excellent little read.

Ruth said...

Isn't it gorgeous? It reminds me of a J. M. W. Turner.

And yes, Elinore is an extremely good character.

Paula Vince said...

I'd never heard of her before, but will add this book to my list, just on the basis of the awesome quotes you've chosen. She sounds like a very wise woman who knew the secret of contentment, and had lots of wisdom to share.

Ruth said...

You will appreciate the topic, given our year long trek through independent prairie living with the Little House series. It is such a great journey and sometimes sad, and other times so hysterical.

JaneGS said...

This is an excellent review of one of my favorite books--I've read it three times, and also read Letters on an Elk Hunt and as well as the book by Susanne George about EPS. She is definitely one of my heroes--I admire her fortitude, strength, and pluck. I have passed the area of Wyoming where she homesteaded several times on road trips and always mean to stop and drink in the landscape she described so well.

Did you know that the movie Heartland is based on this book. I've seen it a couple of times, and would love to rewatch it. It's pretty faithful to the book, as I recall.

Ruth said...

Hi, Jane,

I've been watching the movie via Youtube. I think I'm half way through b/c it's in parts or segments.

I'm really glad to find another reader who enjoyed the book and esteems author. (Hamlette @ Edge of the Precipice is a fan, too). I look forward to finding a copy of LEH. Don't know anything about Susanne George, so I'll look at that, too.