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B o o k R e v ie w s 4 2 5 Best of Covered Wagon Women. Edited by Michael Tate. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008. 304 pages, $19.95. Reviewed by Stephanie Barko Austin, Texas This anthology is derived from the original eleven-volume series Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1890, pub­ lished in 1983 by the Arthur H. Clark Company. The initial volumes were compiled by the late Kenneth Holmes of Western Oregon University. This anthology of eight firsthand accounts was selected by Michael Tate of the University of Nebraska. The diarists are all pioneer women traveling with their husbands. They head out from Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, or Missouri bound for Washing­ ton, Oregon, California, or Colorado. Using known northern routes with oxen pulling a covered wagon, it took about five months to get across the country between 1848 and 1862. They went West to pan for gold, to settle on richer farmland, to expand their mercantile opportunities, and to join family in the West, among other reasons. The best writer in the bunch is Margaret Frink, who traveled from Indiana to California and whose husband published her memoir posthumously in 1897. Frink is known for her accounts of how scurvy was circumvented on the trail. Her memoir shows that many pioneers started out in very small groups and were overwhelmed at trail forks when they witnessed “all manner of vehicles and conveyances. I thought that if one-tenth of these teams got ahead of us, there would be nothing left for us in California worth picking up” (63). A sense of humor came in handy on the trail, as when Ellen Tootle’s husband decides Mrs. Tootle “cannot do anything but talk” on their way from Nebraska to Colorado. “He decided to make [the coffee] himself, but came to ask me how much coffee to take. I told him the quantity of coffee to 1 qt [of water]. He took that, filled the coffee pot with water, then set it near, but not on the fire. I noticed it did not boil, but said nothing. I inquired how the coffee tasted. He acknowledged that it was flat and weak, but insisted I did not give him proper directions and consented to let me try it at supper time” (235). The book includes a map of the United States west of the Mississippi with the states, cities, trails, rivers, forts, and lakes along the way. This map is immensely helpful and would be even more so if it included a few more states to the east. The map depicts a southerly trail, but no diarist in the book went that way. This was a tremendous disappointment as I was quite eager to learn how a woman made her way from my home state of Texas to San Diego, California. Not knowing where their food and water would come from, these women entered a western wilderness, sometimes losing their men and their children along the way. As the trails they once rolled over become today’s interstate highways, the value of the voices in this book will only increase. ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
p. 425
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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