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Pioneer women going west carried distinct images of themselves and of American Indians. Their views reflected stereotypes pervading the popular literature and journalism of the nineteenth century: women were weak and defenseless, their westward trek was a noble mission, and American Indians were savages. But as a result of their frontier experience, many women changed or discarded their earlier opinions. This book is the first account of how and why pioneer women altered their self-images and their views of American Indians.
In Women and Indians on the Frontier, Riley substantially revises the conventional melodramatic picture of pioneer women cowering when confronted with Indians. Frontier life required women to be self-reliant, independent, and hardy: as they learned to adapt, frontierswomen also learned to reexamine stereotypes in the light of experience.
Interestingly, Riley explains, while pioneer women frequently changed their beliefs about Indians, they did not often revise their attitudes toward Mormon or Mexican women following contact with them. Frontierswomen also differed from men, whose unfavorable impression of Indians seldom changed.
Riley's work is an important addition to Western history, women's studies, and American Indian studies. She examines in detail images and myths of both women and Indians, using examples from history, literature, and film, complemented by period photographs and illustrations. Her comparative account will interest a variety of scholars concerned with cultures in conflict and transition.