Friday, July 09, 2010

Bookshelf: Pioneer Women, Voices from the Kansas Frontier

During our research trip to Salina, Saline, Kansas, we stopped by the local museum store and picked up a book Ol' Myrt here finds fascinating for understanding how my Kansas pioneer ancestors lived.

Pioneer Women, Voices from the Kansas Frontier is compiled by Joanna L. Stratton, based on 800 stories gathered by her grandmother Lilla Day Monroe, and indexed by Joanna's mother. Ms. Stratton admits the personal recollections are not diary entries, but are made many years, even decades after the fact. Also limiting is the obvious fact that only surviving pioneer women's stories are included, not speaking to those who chose to return home to the east or died as a result of the privations of frontier life.

"Our foods were of a coarse variety and we had to resort to a very crude way of cooking it. Cook-stoves were unknown in the territory. We used kettles suspended from a wire over the fire-place and boiled most of our food; baking was done in an iron kettle about four inches deep and two and one half from the ground, supported on three iron legs. This baker, as it was called was covered with an iron lid upon which coals were placed, and the baker was placed on coals of fire, too., and I want to say no malleable stoves ever baked biscuits." Sarah Hammond White, ibid. page 65.
While some recollections focused on personal toils and triumphs, some recalled the impact the US Civil War and the community's struggle to come to grips with prohibition, women's suffrage, abortion and the calamities brought on by severe weather.

There is an appendix listing the subjects of the pioneer stories, and the date of arrival in Kansas and each woman's age at the time of immigration. There is no indication of the source of this information, but it is assumed it is from the personal recollections of each subject. A brief two page bibliography lists general reference titles.

I'd have preferred to read each woman's recollections just as they were given, rather than having the majority of the text be the compiler's commentary. Who knows but what I might arrive at different conclusions. I believe most readers appreciate the opportunity to decipher subtle meanings by reading an entire write-up, rather than having sentences or paragraphs cut out of context.

Fortunately the Lilla Day Monroe Collection of Pioneer Stories manuscript collection has been donated to the Kansas State Historical Society. You may search the collection online, and order copies at $20 per five pages including postage for Kansas residents, $25 for non-residents. Looks like serious researchers may wish to study this collection in person by going to Topeka.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt ;)
Your friend in genealogy.

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