Elinore Pruitt Stewart is renowned for her books ‘Letters of a Woman Homesteader’ and its sequel ‘Letters on an Elk Hunt,’ both of which are included in this Leonaur good value, two-in-one edition. Born in 1876 in the Oklahoma Indian Territory, the oldest of nine children, by the time she was 30 years old she had married Harry Rupert and was the widowed mother of a baby daughter. Three years later Elinore answered an advertisement for a housekeeper for rancher Henry Stewart at Burntfork, Wyoming. She filed a claim on 160 acres of land adjacent to Stewart’s property and the couple were married soon afterwards. Elinore’s life as the couple struggled to run their ranch and raise their family on the Wyoming prairie, was a harsh one, but her books show it be a life full of encounters with notable and memorable characters and rich in variety and experience. She has left us a rewarding, charming and poignant insight into the lives of American settlers who carved a living and a nation out of the western states. Her story epitomises the spirit of the pioneer women who tamed a wilderness and will resonate with everyone who enjoys reading about the lives of those determined to triumph over adversity.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
We were sitting in the scant shadow of the wagons eating our dinner when we were startled to see a tall, bare-headed man come racing down the draw. His clothes and shoes were in tatters; there were great blisters on his arms and shoulders where the sun had burned him; his eyes were swollen and red, and his lips were cracked and bloody. His hair was so white and so dusty that altogether he was a pitiful-looking object. He greeted us pleasantly, and said that his name was Olaf Swanson and that he was a sheep-herder; that he had seen us and had come to ask for a little smoking. By that he meant tobacco.
Mrs. O’Shaughnessy was eyeing him very closely. She asked him when he had eaten. That morning, he said. She asked him what he had eaten; he told her cactus balls and a little rabbit. I saw her exchange glances with Professor Glenholdt, and she left her dinner to get out her war-bag.
She called Olaf aside and gently dressed his blisters with Listerine; after she had helped him to clean his mouth she said to him, “Now, Olaf, sit by me and eat; show me how much you can eat. Then tell me what you mean by saying you are a sheep-herder; don’t you think we know there will be no sheep on the desert before there is snow to make water for them?”
“I am what I say I am,” he said. “I am not herding now because sorrow has drove me to dig wells. It is sorrow for horses. Have you not seen their bones every mile or so along this road? Them’s markers. Every pile of bones marks where man’s most faithful friend has laid down at last: most of ’em died in the harness and for want of water.
“I killed a horse once. I was trying to have a good time. I had been out with sheep for months and hadn’t seen any one but my pardner. We planned to have a rippin’ good time when we took the sheep in off the summer range and drew our pay. You don’t know how people-hungry a man gets livin’ out. So my pardner and me layed out to have one spree. We had a neat little bunch of money, but when we got to town we felt lost as sheep. We didn’t know nobody but the bartender. We kept taking a drink now and then just so as to have him to talk to. Finally, he told us there was going to be a dance that night, so we asked around and found we could get tickets for two dollars each. Sam said he’d like to go. We bought tickets.
“Somehow or another they knew us for sheep-herders, and every once in a while somebody would baa-baa at us. We had a couple of dances, but after that we couldn’t get a pardner. After midnight things begun to get pretty noisy. Sam and me was settin’ wonderin’ if we were havin’ a good time, when a fellow stepped on Sam’s foot and said baa. I rose up and was goin’ to smash him, but Sam collared me and said, ‘Let’s get away from here, Olaf, before trouble breaks out.’ It sounded as if every man in the house and some of the women were baa-ing.
“We were pretty near the door when a man put his hand to his nose and baa-ed. I knocked him down, and before you could bat your eye everybody was fightin’. We couldn’t get out, so we backed into a corner; and every man my fist hit rested on the floor till somebody helped him away. A fellow hit me on the head with a chair and I didn’t know how I finished or got out.
“The first thing I remember after that was feeling the greasewood thorns tearing my flesh and my clothes next day. We were away out on the desert not far from North Pilot butte. Poor Sam couldn’t speak. I got him off poor old Pinto, and took off the saddle for a pillow for him. I hung the saddle-blanket on a greasewood so as to shade his face; then I got on my own poor horse, poor old Billy, and started to hunt help. I rode and rode. I was tryin’ to find some outfit. When Billy lagged I beat him on. You see, I was thinking of Sam. After a while the horse staggered,—stepped into a badger hole, I thought. But he kept staggerin’. I fell off on one side just as he pitched forward. He tried and tried to get up. I stayed till he died; then I kept walking. I don’t know what became of Sam; I don’t know what became of me; but I do know I am going to dig wells all over this desert until every thirsty horse can have water.”
All the time he had been eating just pickles; when he finished his story he ate faster. By now we all knew he was demented. The men tried to coax him to go on with us so that they could turn him over to the authorities, but he said he must be digging. At last it was decided to send someone back for him. Mr. Struble was unwilling to leave him, but the man would not be persuaded. Suddenly he gathered up his “smoking” and some food and ran back up the draw. We had to go on, of course.
All that afternoon our road lay along the buried river. I don’t mean dry river. Sand had blown into the river until the water was buried. Water was only a few feet down, and the banks were clearly defined. Sometimes we came to a small, dirty puddle, but it was so alkaline that nothing could drink it. The story we had heard had saddened us all, and we were sorry for our horses. Poor little Elizabeth Hull wept. She said the West was so big and bare, and she was so alone and so sad, she just had to cry.