Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pioneer Women

I have a fascination with the pioneer women who came west by covered wagons.  It started in the 8th grade when I made a scaled down replica of a pioneer's sod house for history class.  I couldn't even imagine what it would have been like to live in a house made of dirt.  From that point on, I devoured every book and article I came across that told the stories of these strong and courageous women.

There is something so raw and real about women of this time period that I was instantly drawn to their lives. Their stories are a contrast of hardship and hope.  They were coming out west with big dreams of land ownership and homesteads, and they sacrificed nearly everything to get the chance at a better life.

Could you imagine starting a new life with only the things that could fit in the back of your pick-up truck?  The pioneers left nearly all of their worldly possesions behind in order to start a new life.  Today, we have so much junk that clutters up our lives.  We spend hours every week cleaning our "stuff", organizing our "stuff" and working to make money to buy more "stuff".  We're a society addicted to "stuff".  It's like an idol that takes up our precious time. The pioneers didn't pack their junk.  They took tools, bedding, and food.  They let go of the rest of it so it wouldn't weigh them down while they traveled.

They also weren't obsessed with clothing like we are.  Women had a choring dress, a regular dress, and a Sunday dress.  I have an entire closet full of clothes, and still say, "I have nothing to wear" on Sunday mornings.  Pathetic.  I know.  Maybe if I had to hand- wash my clothes on a washboard with a bar of soap, I would seriously reconsider which outfits were important, and make a quilt...or 5 quilts out of the rest.  I already hate doing the laundry with a machine that does all of the work for me. If I had to wash my clothes all by hand, I would thin out the closet to one article of clothing, and hang it on a peg. 

In addition to their adventurous spirit, and their loose grip on worldly possessions, I love their tough resolve.  They define the terms "grit and gumption".  In reading the diaries of women on the trail, I gained a whole new level of understanding about the hardships they endured.  They lost husbands and children to sickness, drownings, and indian attacks while making their way west. Many times they would write an entire journal entry, and then at the very end, they would write a simple sentence about giving birth to a son that day.  One sentence.  Childbirth was one of the leading causes of death for women at that time, and some women had their babies in the back of a wagon, with no doctors and no assistance.  They didn't whine for months on end about the difficulties of being pregnant.  They pulled their weight...big belly and all.  And it was such a natural thing for them that they didn't even mention it in their daily musings. Incredible.

Pioneer women had some serious "skills" too.  They would cook anything their husbands brought in from the hunt, and utilize every part of the animal.  They could make entire meals on a campfire, sew the clothes for the entire family, and bake bread from scratch.  They could plant a garden that would sustain their family for the entire year. They were good with a gun, and great with an iron skillet.  They could do nearly anything a man could do....with a skirt on. :) We have machines to do nearly all of our chores for us, and stores to buy all of our food and clothing, and we still complain that we don't have enough hours in the day to "get it all done".  Maybe we're wasting all of our time cleaning our "stuff".

The thing I love best about these women of courage, was that many of them were also women of great faith.  Most brought along a family Bible on their journey west. They would memorize it, teach their children to read from it's pages, and keep a record of births and deaths in it. They treasured their Savior. Those women had a simple faith that would sustain them through unspeakable hardships, and times of uncertainty. 

Sometimes I wonder if the "junk" in my life holds me back.  I wonder if I'm missing out on God's best for me because I can't let go of the "stuff" that weighs me down.  I get too caught up with things of this world that don't matter. I need to re-prioritize....Sit in the back of my empty wagon, so to speak, and decide what things are crucial to the journey ahead.  Then I need to get rid of the rest of it.  I want to focus on "others" more, and "me" less.  Sometimes a person can get so wrapped up in their own drama, that they miss out on opportunities to serve those around them.  I want to keep my hands busy doing things that are productive, and helpful for my family.  I want to love God with all of my heart, and live out a simple faith.

That's why I'm so fascinated with pioneer women.  They are a snapshot of the Proverbs 31 woman.  They are everything I'm not...and it's humbling.  I always choose role models who are WAY out of my league.  Why not shoot for the stars?

How about you? What type of people inspire you?


  1. Thank you for this post Lynell. Your question may have been rhetorical, but..

    I guess trailblazers inspire me, too. We don't have a wild west anymore, but we have a wild east. The people of Korah inspire me...they live their whole lives surrounded by other people's junk. The ones who inspire me most are the ones who barely make it out, but then go back in to help others!

  2. Beautifully written! It brought a big smile to my face.

    I am the 5th generation on our family farm. I always heard stories about my family coming from Ireland and settling here. They lived in a sod shanty for the first few years until they could have enough time/money to build their home, which my brother lives in today. One of our families most prized possessions is the family bible that has been past down since before they immigrated to Canada.

    I always imagine myself/wish that I could live in a time where everyone worked the land to survive. I find that things are to easily given to us now and people are afraid of a little hard work to earn something!


  3. Awesome blog Lynell. I am inspired by powerful women and you are one of them!

  4. Dawn, The women of Korah are indeed an inspiration, and a story that shows both a great need, and great courage.

    Lindsay, what an honor to live on your family's land! I'm sure it is rich with history and holds a special place in your heart. I'm sure your family's Bible is, indeed, a treasure that holds a place of high importance. What a great heirloom to pass on!

    Sharon, You are so sweet. Love ya!