Going Back in Time: A Woman’s Life on the American Frontier by Shirleen Davies

family+travleing+west+by+wagonThe period of western expansion and settlement challenged settlers in ways inconceivable to us today. It’s hard to believe, with all our modern conveniences and creature comforts, that our ancestors were ever so resourceful, determined, and resilient in the face of monumental difficulties.

When you start to do a little digging, it doesn’t take long to discover that women who traveled west—alone or with their families—had unprecedented responsibility on the frontier. By necessity, women did a great deal more physical labor on the frontier than we’re accustomed to today.

Most women on the frontier who took jobs to survive, worked in traditionally female roles such as teaching, nursing, and service work. However, these jobs made women’s labor integral to the growth of western communities.

farm+wife+collecting+buffalo+chips+for+fiewThe challenge of frontier life started with the journey. Women were responsible for preparing their families for the long, dangerous trip westward. One of the most important pieces of that puzzle was outfitting a wagon. Women hand-sewed wagon covers (often in groups as a social event) as well as clothes for the journey. These items were necessary to surviving harsh and varied climates which included burning heat in the plains and deserts, and freezing cold in the mountains. Wagons were stocked with the bare necessities, forcing tough choices when it came to leaving precious heirlooms behind. Families needed to be kept clean, fed, and clothed, but saving space and weight in the wagon made this a delicate balancing act between preparedness and minimalism.

When families reached the frontier, priorities shifted away from basic survival toward establishing sustainable lives in the new land. Women were vastly outnumbered by men. Some figures place it at three or four men for every woman. However, women still shouldered a great portion of the work.

saloon+girlMen worked jobs that drew them west in the first place, while women took charge of home management as well as assisting with farming and ranching chores. Unmarried women often cleaned rooms in hotels and boarding houses, worked in saloons, and assisted in medical clinics that benefitted local families as well as the huge number of single men who lived in or passed through their towns. Providing laundry and seamstress services also gave women with no family a way to survive. Women as a whole often pooled time, skill, and capital to provide care for the entire town’s children, bachelors, transients, ill, and injured.

Women also shouldered the responsibility for orchestrating social and leisure time. Church boards and ladies’ groups were often a town’s most important asset in terms of creating a homey, enjoyable social life in frontier towns that were isolated and detached from the rest of the country.

Mining town life, however, drew a different type of woman. Many traveled from camp to camp, working in saloons and offering their favors in the sex trade. Brothels sprung up overnight in such camps and were extremely popular. Women who didn’t make it in this trade occasionally became outlaws. There are accounts of numerous females who became accomplished at robbing stagecoaches, banks, and unsuspecting newcomers to the west.

one+room+sod+school+house+-+Southwestern+frontierMany women were drawn westward for teaching opportunities. One of the reasons that so many women were able to get jobs in education is that one could get away with paying female teachers less than male teachers. Still, education jobs were considered valuable opportunities, enticing women to strike out for the western territory. Female educators did their best with little to no supplies, bare classrooms, overcrowding, and nothing more than the Bible for reading material. Schools also operated according to ranch and farming schedules, which meant some schools were in session for as few as three months out of the year. As a group, determined, altruistic female teachers were responsible for educating an entire generation of western Americans in basic academic and life skills.

female+cattle+rancher+in+1880sBecause there were so many more men, women were “in demand” among those who wanted to settle down in the west. This meant that unmarried women could afford to be picky, and many women held more social and financial capital than they could have in the east.

Participating in local politics became more common among women in the west. Tough, resourceful, enterprising women, earned the respect and admiration of the town’s men through their mettle and fortitude, proving themselves through their countless contributions to the economy of frontier towns. In some towns, women secured their rights earlier than their eastern sisters. Believe it or not, women in the western territories had the right to vote well before the 19th amendment, and well before most of their sisters on the eastern seaboard.

Unending work, hardships, and unparalleled opportunity awaited those women willing to make the sacrifices necessary for a life on the frontier. Could I have lived during the western expansion? Of course. Any of us could. Would I want to do it given present day conveniences and jobs? Hmmm…that’s a whole other question.

What would you do?

dsc_0254_0120+cropped+2Bio: Shirleen Davies writes romance—historical, contemporary, and romantic suspense. She grew up in Southern California, attended Oregon State University, and has degrees from San Diego State University and the University of Maryland. During the day she provides consulting services to small and mid-sized businesses. But her real passion is writing emotionally charged stories of flawed people who find redemption through love and acceptance.  She now lives with her husband in a beautiful town in northern Arizona. 

Web links (website, social media, etc):

Write to her at:  shirleen@shirleendavies.com

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About the Book

 Book Title: Wildfire Creek, Book Two, Redemption Mountain Historical Western Romance series

Genre: Historical Western Romance

 Publisher: Avalanche Ranch Press LLC

 Date of Publication:  Jan 26 2015

 Word Count:  90,000

 Formats available: mobi, ePub, PDF, Paperback


Book Description:

Luke Pelletier is settling into his new life as a rancher and occasional Pinkerton Agent, leaving his past as an ex-Confederate major and Texas Ranger far behind. He wants nothing more than to work the ranch, charm the ladies, and live a life of carefree bachelorhood.

Ginny Sorensen has accepted her responsibility as the sole provider for herself and her younger sister. The desire to continue their journey to Oregon is crushed when the need for food and shelter keeps them in the growing frontier town of Splendor, Montana, forcing Ginny to accept work as a server in the local saloon.

Luke has never met a woman as lovely and unspoiled as Ginny. He longs to know her, yet fears his wild ways and unsettled nature aren’t what she deserves. She’s a girl you marry, but that is nowhere in Luke’s plans.

Complicating their tenuous friendship, a twist in circumstances forces Ginny closer to the man she most wants to avoid—the man who can destroy her dreams, and who’s captured her heart.

Believing his bachelor status firm, Luke moves from danger to adventure, never dreaming each step he takes brings him closer to his true destiny and a life much different from what he imagines.


 “Hold it right there.”

Ginny froze, not recognizing the deep growl coming from behind her.

“Put your hands up and turn around.”

She did as he asked, her heart pounding, wondering if someone had slipped by Hank to come in the front door. Slowly she turned, raising her eyes to meet those of the man holding a gun on her. Her breath caught at the sight of Luke, his face hard, his mouth in a thin line. She could see the instant recognition dawned. He lowered the gun in a quick motion and slammed it into the holster.

“What the hell are you doing here? And why are you dressed like that?”

She swallowed the hard lump in her throat and took in a shuttering breath, anger replacing the fear she’d felt. “You scared the daylights out of me,” she hissed and pulled the hat off her head, exposing soft brown wisps of hair which had escaped the loose bun.

He held his ground, taking in the sight of her in men’s trousers, a too big shirt haphazardly tucked inside and held together by a wide leather belt. The coat he’d given her covered the ridiculous outfit. He let his gaze wander over her, his eyes softening at the same time his body tightened—a reaction he was powerless to control.

“I asked what you’re doing here, sneaking around the house. Stealing?”

“I am not stealing,” she threw back at him. “I work here.”

“What?” His voice took on a hard edge as his eyes narrowed, signaling his disbelief.

“Dax and Rachel hired me to take on Bernice’s job.”

He took a step forward, then thought better of it, crossing his arms over his chest, planting his feet shoulder width apart. Frustration warred with the desire he felt toward her. This was not what he’d expected to come home to—Ginny living at the ranch. It slammed into him that he’d see her every day, obliged to be around her, and forced to fight his constant attraction toward her. His jaw hardened as he processed the implication of her new position. He didn’t like it. Not one bit.

“We’ll see about that.” He turned and stormed from the room, walking into the study, slamming the door behind him.

 Buy Links:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00RUYQB7K

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00RUYQB7K

Apple/iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/wildfire-creek/id955583047?mt=11

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wildfire-creek-shirleen-davies/1121005233?ean=2940046495669

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/508037

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/wildfire-creek

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