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.