One of my all-time favorite books is “Letters of a Woman Homesteader,” the missives of Elinore Rupert Stewart, a widowed wash-lady from a small city in Oklahoma, who, upon recovering from the “grippe”, decided she needed, more than anything, “the mountains, the pines, and the clean fresh air” and “wanted to homestead”.
So, in 1909, she up and left with her then 4 year old daughter Jerrine, and filed a claim on a Wyoming homestead adjacent to a bag-pipe playing Scottish bachelor, who would play “The Campbells are Coming” for so long that Elinore said she wished profoundly “that they would hurry up and get here”. That was when she worked for him as a housekeeper. Eventually they married. If I remember correctly, he later expanded his repertoire.
Elinore’s 40 letters are all written to her former employer back in Oklahoma, Mrs. Coney.
In Gretel Erlich’s introduction, she says, “ In the course of her travels on horseback or buggy across the state of Wyoming, she was, by turns, matchmaker, Santa Claus, saviour, midwife, mother, doctor, teacher, and friend…What matters to us is not the distances she covered, but the greatness of her heart….No other account of frontier life so demonstrates the meaning of neighborliness and community…of tenaciousness charged not by dour stoicism but by simple joy”.
It was a simpler time of living. No doubt humans as a species were still messed up in the ways that we tend to be. But it’s inspiring for me to read this example of how one high spirited person ended up affecting so many in her community, and perhaps even more importantly, made Elinore’s own day to day existence one of profound happiness. She says, “When I think of [all my blessings] I wonder how I can crowd my joy into one short life.”
Here’s my first excerpt for you!
“About noon the first day (heading out to make her claim) we came near a sheep-wagon, and stalking along ahead of us was a lanky fellow, a herder, going home for dinner. Suddenly it seemed to me I should starve if I had to wait until we got where we had planned to stop for dinner, so I called out to the man, “Little Bo Peep, have you anything to eat? If you have, we’d like to find it.” And he answered, “As soon as I am able, it shall be on the table, if you’ll but trouble to get behind it.”
Shades of Shakespeare! Songs of David, the Shepherd Poet! What do you think of us? Well, we got behind it, and a more delicious “it” I never tasted. Such coffee! And out of such a pot! I promised Bo-Peep that I would send him a crook with pink ribbons on it, but I suspect he thinks I am a crook without the ribbons.”
Later, Elinore gets self conscious about her “outrageous” behavior. She writes,
“My dear friend,
I was dreadfully afraid that my last letter was too much for you and now I feel plumb guilty. I really don’t know how to write you, for I have to write so much to say so little, and now that my last letter made you sick I almost wish so many things didn’t happen to me, for I always want to tell you.”
I love you Elinore!
What historical characters, fictional or real, give you inspiration, or feel like kindred spirits to you?
How have you expressed their influence/s on you, in your own life?