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The First We Can Remember

Colorado Pioneer Women Tell Their Stories

Lee Schweninger

Publication Year: 2011

Looking over the great prairie in the early 1880s, Nellie Buchanan said, “I knew I would never be contented until I had a home of our own in the wonderful West.” Some were not so sanguine. Mary Cox described the prairie as “the most barren, forsaken country that we had ever seen.” Like the others whose stories appear in this book, these women were describing their own thoughts and experiences traveling to and settling in what became Colorado. Sixty-seven of their original, first-person narratives, recounted to Civil Works Administration workers in 1933 and 1934, are gathered for the first time in this book.

The First We Can Remember presents richly detailed, vivid, and widely varied accounts by women pioneers during the late nineteenth century. Narratives of white American-born, European, and Native American women contending with very different circumstances and geographical challenges tell what it was like to settle during the rise of the smelting and mining industries or the gold rush era; to farm or ranch for the first time; to struggle with unfamiliar neighbors, food and water shortages, crop failure, or simply the intransigent land and unpredictable weather. Together, these narratives—historically and geographically framed by Lee Schweninger’s detailed introduction—create a vibrant picture of women’s experiences in the pioneering of the American West.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. xv-xl

After an overnight stop during her journey to Colorado in the early 1880s, Nellie Buchanan described her excitement about pioneering in the West. Like the other narrators whose accounts appear here, she was excited about the open spaces, the physical beauty, and the...

A Note on the Texts

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pp. xli-xliv

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Chapter 1: The Northwest Plateau: Moffat and Rio Blanco Counties

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pp. 1-22

To the west of the Rocky Mountains stretches an arid plateau region that includes northwestern Colorado, southwestern Wyoming, and northeastern Utah; the area was home to the White River Utes long before the arrival of European American missionaries, trappers, farmers...

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Chapter 2: The Mountains and Foothills: Gunnison, Rio Grande, Chaffee, Delta,Arapahoe, and Alamosa Counties

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pp. 23-66

Although not all of the counties included in this section are mountain counties, each of the narratives included here concerns itself to some extent with the details of traveling to, traveling through, settling in, and mining in the mountains of Colorado. Taken together, they offer...

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Chapter 3: The South: Pueblo, Otero, El Paso, and Las Animas Counties

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pp. 67-102

At the conjunction of the Arkansas River and Fountain Creek, the site where the city of Pueblo now stands, the men in Zebulon Pike’s 1806 expedition into Colorado built a breastwork of logs for shelter and protection. In 1840 the hunter, trapper, and guide Richens Lacy Wootten...

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Chapter 4: The Northeast: Weld, Morgan, and Logan Counties

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pp. 103-132

One of the inducements for European American settlement in eastern Colorado was the Federal Homestead Act of 1862, which enabled a homesteader to acquire 160 acres of “unoccupied” land by preempting (that is, by living on it or “squatting” in a sense) for five years...

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Chapter 5: The Eastern Prairie: Kit Carson and Prowers Counties

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pp. 133-188

Before much of it was turned to farmland and rangeland, the eastern third of Colorado was short-grass prairie with an average rainfall of below twenty inches a year. A concern mentioned by nearly every narrator in Kit Carson County, therefore, was the scarcity of water. The...

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Chapter 6 The Southwest: La Plata and Montezuma Counties

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pp. 189-280

Named for the mineral wealth to be found in the area, the county La Plata (Spanish for silver) on the New Mexico line in southwestern Colorado was established in 1874 from the area that had, for the most part, been Guadalupe (Conejos) County originally. Though initially...

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Appendix: The Correspondence of Anna Florence Robisonand LeRoy Hafen

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pp. 281-306

Anna Florence Robison, the field-worker for Montezuma County in 1934, corresponded frequently with LeRoy Hafen, curator at the Colorado Historical Society in Denver and the project director for the fieldwork being done across the state. Although Anna Robison need not be seen...


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pp. 307-344


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pp. 345-352


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pp. 353-363

E-ISBN-13: 9780803237742
E-ISBN-10: 080323774X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803235151
Print-ISBN-10: 0803235151

Page Count: 408
Illustrations: 8 maps, 1 appendix
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 821726205
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The First We Can Remember

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Oral history -- Colorado.
  • Interviews -- Colorado.
  • Colorado -- History -- 1876-1950.
  • Colorado -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Colorado -- Biography.
  • Women pioneers -- Colorado -- Interviews.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Colorado.
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