Book Review: A Bride Goes West by Nannie T. Alderson and Helena Huntington Smith
The situation of women on the American Western frontier has not been documented as much as that of their male counterparts. Yet women often faced much the same dangers and hardships as the men. This book is the narrative of Nannie T. Alderson who was a young bride who married a cowboy and moved from West Virginia and a comfortable life to go to Montana and a very different life. Nannie was born in 1860 in Union, West Virginia. Her first sight of her future husband was in 1877 while visiting a Baptist preacher’s home a cowboy, who had moved to Kansas with his father and family. At the first meeting she thought he was rather odd. They met again later and he asked her to marry him and go west.
On getting to Miles City There were all sorts of men from various parts of the country who planned to go into the cattle business. When they reached the place they were to live, she found herself a hundred miles from any stores to pick up supplies. Without the help of neighbors she had to learn tasks such as laundry, which she did, not do back home. “On the ranch we had meat without end, milk, and butter (if I made it), and later a few vegetables.” (P39) All else came from Miles city and only once a year the men went there to ship cattle and buy supplies such as sugar, flour, coffee, sides of bacon, dried fruits and canned goods by the case.
Later she relates experiences with the Indians. They were mostly Northern Cheyenne’s who had been the deadliest fighters and enemies of the whites until two years before she came there. One visitor was “old chief Two Moons, who had played a leading part seven years before in chopping Custer’s Command to pieces at the battle of the Little Big Horn.” (P47).
Along the way she describes various visitors, some of whom were characters, such Packsaddle Jack, who was a Texan with a herd of cattle in 1880 or thereabouts. He had an old Texas saddle that was so worn that the wood tree showed through the leather. With the rickety saddle and a cocky manner “caused a few grins to appear” He asked for a job and the boss said he would hire him if he could ride. A cowboy roped an outlaw horse, which nobody had ridden successfully. She said the “animal almost bucked himself in two. But the saddle stayed together and the man stayed on...” That is when he got the name Packsaddle Jack. (P 86-87)
When she was staying in Miles City to have her baby and her husband was able to stay with her most of the time they got a telegram. Instead of congratulations on having the baby it read:” Indians have burned your house. Come immediately with sheriff and posse..’ (P99) The cause was some stupid horseplay by a cowboy.
She continues to describe life on a ranch and finally the accidental death of her husband. I think it a very interesting book both for the description of ranch life at that period in history and the role of a woman in it. She is not a cowgirl nor is she quite the meek sort of woman seen in western movies.
I highly recommend this book if you can find a copy and are interested in American western History. It tells well the story of a particular woman who leaves a comfortable southern life for the western by Nannie T. frontier and despite hardships is quite happy with the new life.
The original copyright date for this book is 1942 and the edition I have in paperback was printed in 1969.ISBN 0-8032-5001-0 Bison Books Edition It is an old book, which I picked up at a library sale. Mrs. Alderson told her stories to Ms Huntington who gathered them together for this book. J O’H illustrates it. Cosgrove II
© 2012 Don A. Hoglund