Do you love a good story? Ever wondered what it was like for your ancestors as they homesteaded in the western United States? Reading the original letters of Elinore Pruitt Stewart, you get both – the stories from the viewpoint of a homesteader. The Atlantic Monthly first published Elinore’s letters in 1914, then Houghton Mifflin published them as the book titled Letters of a Woman Homesteader. The complete book has been digitized and is available on Internet Archive.
Elinore Pruitt was born in Indian Territory on 3 June 1876, now Garvin County, Oklahoma. Elinore and her siblings were orphaned when she was just 18 years old. She married an older man who died leaving her a young widow before their daughter, Mary Jerrine, was born. Elinore and Jerrine moved to Denver where Elinore worked for Mrs. Juliet Coney. Answering an advertisement in The Denver Post and with her daughter in tow, Elinore set off for an adventure to work for Henry Clyde Stewart, a widower and homesteader. She decided to file her own claim and wrote regular letters to her friend Mrs. Coney about her life in Wyoming. She married Mr. Stewart and they had five children together, three who survived.
Letters of a Woman Homesteader is the Family Locket Book Club selection for Winter of 2020. I’d love to have you join us over on Goodreads if you share a love of reading and a love of writing your family’s stories. We read books about real people overcoming real challenges that inspire us to write our own family’s story of trials and triumph. If you have suggestions of favorite books for future selections, be sure to leave a comment with your ideas.
As family historians, we’re often seeking for ways to understand the lives of our ancestors. Viewing the daily realities of Elinor’s life through her letters gives us a glimpse into what our ancestors might have experienced. From the chapter title “Filing A Claim” we get an idea of the process of applying for a land grant through the homesteading laws.
May 24, 1909
Well, I have filed on my land and am now a bloated landowner. I waited a long time to even see land in the reserve, and the snow is yet too deep, so I thought that as they have but three months of summer and spring together and as I wanted the land for a ranch anyway, perhaps I had better stay in the valley. So I have filed adjoining Mr. Stewart and I am well pleased. . . .
A neighbor and his daughter were going to Green River the county-seat and said I might go along, so I did, as I could file there as well as at the land office. . . .
In the chapter, “Proving Up” we get more insight to the homesteading process.
October 14, 1911
The law requires a cash payment of twenty-five cents per acre at the filing, and one dollar more per acre when final proof is made. I should not have married if Clyde had not promised I should meet all my land difficulties unaided. I wanted the fun and the experience. For that reason I want to earn every cent that goes into my own land and improvements myself.
Elinore’s letters are full of the adventures that come with living on the frontier. Vivid descriptions of the people and places give life to the stories and help us to visualize life over a hundred years ago.
In our own personal histories are we leaving enough of a description of our lives that a hundred years from now our descendants will be fascinated with the small details that make up our day to day living?
Reading Letters of A Woman Homesteader can give us insight into the lives of our ancestors and teach us something about recording our own personal history.
Best of luck in all your genealogy endeavors!
This is one of my favorite books and Elinore is one of my favorite characters. I love her! She is such a role model, a heroine with persistence and grit. This will be a fun read for your book club. There is a movie, also, though it’s not nearly as good as the book. Read the book first, for sure!
I agree! Elinore is great example for all of us.
Letters of a Woman Homesteader and it’s visionary author Elinore, is delightfully authentic. What a thrill to find a woman who loved life’s exciting yet challenging journey to the fullest and was so eager to share her happy and exemplary life to her dear friend who in turn shared it with so many others. Elinore was a woman’s woman showing her grit and determination to the rest of us modern-day women–a true and selfless example of an American female pioneer.