Frontier Grit: The Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women

Frontier Grit: The Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women

by Marianne Monson


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Discover the stories of twelve women who “heard the call” to settle the west and who came from all points of the globe to begin their journey. As a slave, Clara watched as her husband and children were sold, only to be reunited with her youngest daughter, as a free woman, six decades later. As a young girl, Charlotte hid her gender to escape a life of poverty and became the greatest stagecoach driver that ever lived. As a Native American, Gertrude fought to give her people a voice and to educate leaders about the ways and importance of her culture.

These are gripping miniature dramas of good-hearted women, selfless providers, courageous immigrants and migrants, and women with skills too innumerable to list. Many were crusaders for social justice and women’s rights. All endured hardships, overcame obstacles, broke barriers, and changed the world.

The author ties the stories of these pioneer women to the experiences of women today with the hope that they will be inspired to live boldly and bravely and to fill their own lives with vision, faith, and fortitude. To live with grit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629722276
Publisher: Shadow Mountain Publishing
Publication date: 09/06/2016
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 348,004
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Marianne Monson is a writer and professor of English with a strong interest in the relationship between literature and history. She teaches Creative Writing at Portland Community College and regularly speaks at writing conferences.

Read an Excerpt


What is a frontier? If I was going to write a book about female pioneers, I needed to define what I meant by the term, and any attempt at defining "pioneer" brought me back to that illusive word. Was the frontier simply an imaginary boundary, a constantly moving line between supposed "civilization" and the "unknown" West?

To me, it is simply a place where your people have not gone before-it is the place on the map where the collective thinking of your society draws a large and compelling question mark. Of course, this doesn't have to be a geographical boundary-it might be an unexplored theological issue, a topic of conversation no one is comfortable discussing, an unfolding intellectual sphere, a newly-invented technology, or an insight irreconcilable with current social norms.

Just because no one you know has been there doesn't mean that it's never been inhabited by another group of people who have a prior claim to the place. But because no one you know has ever been there before, the space is wide open to possibility-a place where rules are still being worked out and decided. Frontier space is available to anyone, not just big players who ruled in the past. It's a place where the average person can help determine the way things are going to work, because it's still anyone's guess how the future will unfold.

The freedom of such a space is as exhilarating as it is disconcerting, and in a true frontier, the traditional safeguards and protections are as glaringly absent as the stifling rules. People can and will get hurt. That is why rules were made in the first place, at least hypothetically.

I was raised on the stories of strong pioneer women. Within my own family history, I have women who left luxury in England, positions of leadership among the Maori in New Zealand, and those who were drawn by their poverty from Wales. Some of my ancestors set up house in an abandoned chicken coop. I was raised on these stories. The blood of these women runs through my veins and I grew up seeing my life as a continuation of their own.

In many ways, all of our lives are. The frontier as we've defined it could as easily apply to modern technology, with its resulting onslaught of related inventions, as it does to the American West. We live today in a world of upheaval, a world that is changing at a frantic pace, a world where many boundaries of the past have been flung away, and we are now again deciding: what are the new rules? And who gets to say? Now, more than ever, we need to know the stories of the women whose blood runs through our veins, either literally or metaphorically.

While working on this project, I came across a box of books discarded by my university's library. Never one to pass up free book, I sorted through the stack and found an old, leather-bound volume entitled Pioneers of California. Thinking it might be useful, I thumbed through the pages. Chapter after chapter of the book profiled ministers, governors, politicians, settlers, and gold rushers. Without a single exception, they were white. And they were all male.

The book served as a reminder that we are not many generations removed from a time when it was perfectly acceptable to tell the story of California through the eyes of white males alone. But history is made up of so much more than wars and official government documents. It is made up of people-their stories, failures, and triumphs. As one prominent historian has noted, "If history is to be creative, to anticipate new possibilities without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past's fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare" (Zinn, 11).

Thousands of women-black, white, Native American, Mexican, Chinese, Polynesian, and other racial variations-experienced the frontier. As the "pioneers of California" can be broadened to include women, so can the term also be redefined to no longer be the special province of U.S. expansionism. The women in this book come from a wide variety of backgrounds and traveled in a number of different directions-these stories represent a mere handful of the women who survived and even thrived on a number of gritty, tumultuous frontiers. Many were crushed by the challenges, their voices silenced and discarded in the passing of time. But some of them triumphed; some of their stories remain. In spite of all odds stacked against them, their voices persist, whether through a journal kept in a leaky wagon, or through a life so remarkable the world was forced to take note.

Fragments of their stained, complicated, gloriously real lives have been passed onto us, giving us tales to fuel our own efforts to build on these "fugitive moments of compassion," and create lives that will become stories worth telling. The further I got into this project, the more I marveled at the contemporary relevance of these women. So many of the questions that still haunt and inspire us, both as individuals and as a nation, can be traced to the events contained in the lives of these women. You will be astonished at how familiar their struggles appear, and I can promise that you will find yourself in these pages. Pioneering of every variety, in every generation, requires a stubbornness of thought, a willingness to disregard public opinion, and a grit to endure. These stories are fit inspiration for modern-day efforts to venture into new and unknown paths, to climb ragged, rocky mountains, and to cling to a vision of how we might rebuild this tumultuous world into something better, truer and stronger for generations yet to come. Enjoy this journey, and find impetus here to forge your own frontier.

Table of Contents

  • Nellie Cashman: Known across the American West as a nurse, restaurateur, businesswoman, Roman Catholic philanthropist, and gold prospector in Alaska.
    • Born: 1845 County Cork, Ireland Died: 1925 Victoria, Canada
  • Aunt Clara Brown: A former slave from Virginia who became a community leader, philanthropist and aided settlement of former slaves during the time of Colorado's Gold Rush.
    • Born: circa 1800, Virginia Died: 1885, Denver, Colorado
  • Abigail Scott Duniway: An American women's rights advocate, newspaper editor and writer, whose efforts were instrumental in gaining voting rights for women.
    • Born: 1834, Illinois Died: 1915, Portland, Oregon
  • María Amparo Ruiz de Burton: The first female Mexican-American author to write in English. In her career she published two books, and one play—based on Cervants' Don Quixote.
    • Born: 1832, Mexico Died: 1895, Chicago, Illinois
  • Luzena Stanley Wilson: A California Gold Rush entrepreneur.
    • Born: 1819, North Carolina Died: 1902 San Francisco, California
  • Mother Jones: An Irish-American schoolteacher and dressmaker who became a prominent labor and community organizer.
    • Born: 1837, Cork, Ireland Died: Adelphi, Minnesota
  • Zitkala-Sa: Also known by the missionary-given name Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, she was a Sioux writer, editor, musician, teacher and political activist.
    • Born: 1876, South Dakota Died: 1938, Washington, D.C.
  • Mary Hallock Foote: An American author and illustrator. She is best known for her illustrated short stories and novels portraying life in the mining communities of the turn-of-the-century American West. Her extensive personal correspondence was the inspiration for Wallace Stegner's novel Angle of Repose.
    • Born: 1847 Milton, New York Died: 1938 Boston, Massachusetts
  • Martha Hughes Cannon: A Welsh-born immigrant, a physician, Utah women's rights advocate and suffragist, and Utah State Senator. S
    • Born: Wales, 1857 Died: 1932 Los Angeles, California
  • Donaldina Cameron: Born in New Zealand to Presbyterian missionary parents, she immigrated with them to San Francisco's Chinatown, where she rescued thousands of Chinese immigrant girls from indentured servitude. She was known as the "White Devil" to the slave traders.
    • Born: 1869, New Zealand Died: 1968, Palo Alto, California
  • Charley Parkhurst: Born Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst. Disguised as a man, she became a renowned stagecoach driver, farmer, and rancher in California. Her gender wasn't discovered until after her death.
    • Born: 1812 Vermont Died: 1879, Watsonville, California
    • Makaopiopio: One of the first Hawaiian immigrants to settle the Hawaiian colony of Iosepa in the salt flats of Utah.
      • Born: 1815 Hawaii Death: 1889, Iosepa Colony, Utah

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    Frontier Grit: The Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
    Anonymous 5 months ago
    Great information!
    quibecca More than 1 year ago
    I often tell my husband that there is a reason I was born at this time. I don't think I would have had the faith, or endurance to do what these women did. Mostly, I don't think I would have been able to live in a time when women were mere accessories, and not "real" people. BUT, I LOVE, love, love reading about women who decided to take their fate into their own hands and paved a way for women today. There are 12 wonderful women to learn about in these pages. All of them forged a path for women today. Each story is so wonderful. I am blown away at what these women accomplished in their life times. I am only going to share a few of the ones I loved the most. Mother Jones, born Mary Harris Jones was born in Country Cork, Ireland in 1837. She spent her life speaking on behalf of child workers, steelworkers, etc. Some of my favorite quotes from her story are: "I am not a suffragist nor do I believe in 'careers' for women, especially a 'career' in factory and mill where most working women have their 'careers. A great responsibility rests upon women - the training of the children. This is her most beautiful task." and "I have never had a vote, and I have raised hell all over this country! You don't need a vote to raise hell! You need convictions and a voice!" Next, was Martha Hughes Cannon. She was a doctor, a scholar, and the first woman to ever hold the office of a state senator. She ran against her own husband and won. Amazing. Some of my favorite quotes from her story are: "Woman can, when allowed to do so become a most powerful and most potent factor in the affairs of the government. Women suffrage is no longer an experiment, but it is a practical reality, tending to the well-being of the State." and The Chicago Record stated "Mrs. Doctor Martha Hughes on of the brightest exponents of the women's cause in the United States" There are so many more wonderful stories. Some of the things said about these women make me even more proud to be a woman. Although many of the things said about them will never be said about me, it makes me feel like I could change the world if I tried. These women never, ever, let things get in their way. Source: I was given this book by the publisher in return for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for this review. These are my own PERSONAL thoughts on the book.
    LilacDreams More than 1 year ago
    A dozen women are profiled here in Frontier Grit. Determination was one thing they all had in common. They refused to give up, no matter the circumstances. My favorites: Nellie Cashman boggles the mind. She loved the rough life, from Tombstone, Arizona, to Alaska. From deadly winter storms to scoundrels, bring ‘em on! Nothing was too hard for her. She was consistently able to start businesses, from diners and hotels to shoe stores. She gained wealth through prospecting, and her early life in Ireland during the potato famine made her charitable. Luzena Wilson insisted on going west with her husband during the California Gold Rush rather than wait at home for him. She doggedly endured in spite of relentless challenges. In those days, there was no insurance or fire departments. She started over with what she had left. Donaldina Cameron devoted her life to “her girls,” Chinese girls she rescued from the slave trade and prostitution. Charley Parkhurst assumed male identity to become the most famous stagecoach driver in the Gold Rush days. What sacrifices are we willing to make to follow our dreams? None of these women were known to me. We can learn from their examples.
    SheTreadsSoftly More than 1 year ago
    Frontier Grit: The Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women by Marianne Monson is a recommended collection featuring the story of twelve women who were pioneers. The women featured in each short chapter are: Nellie Cashman: Gold Rush “Boomer”; a nurse, businesswoman and gold prospector. Aunt Clara Brown: a former slave who became an accomplished and beloved community leader. Abigail Scott Duniway: Oregon Trail suffragette; "Abigail burned at these injustices. Women contributed economically, were held accountable for debts, but remained powerless to own property or manage their own incomes." María Amparo Ruiz de Burton: The first Mexican-American novelist. Luzena Stanley Wilson: Ever-resourceful; a gold-rush entrepreneur. Mother Jones: She could not be silenced; a school teacher who became a labor activist and community organizer. "For over fifty years, Mary traveled the country speaking on behalf of child workers, steelworkers, deported Mexican workers, and coal miners. She once declared to a judge, 'My address is wherever there is a fight against oppression. . . . My address is like my shoes: it travels with me.' Zitkala-Sa: “Red Bird”; a Sioux writer, editor, musician, teacher, and activist Mary Hallock Foote: Mining town author and illustrator. Wallace Stegner was captivated by Mary’s story and his 1972 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Angle of Repose, was based on her life. Martha Hughes Cannon: Frontier doctor, state senator, polygamist, refugee, and women’s rights activist. Donaldina Cameron: The Most Loved and Feared Woman in Chinatown. Donaldina Cameron rescued thousands of girls from sex trafficking rings, and then raised them as her own daughters. Charley Parkhurst: Most celebrated stagecoach driver in the west; she lived her life as a man. Makaopiopio: The Spirit of Aloha; one of the first Hawaiian immigrants to settle the colony of Iosepa. Frontier Grit is a well-researched, easy to read summation of the lives of these 12 women. Each chapter opens with a picture of the woman and a quote. As is my wont for documentation, I appreciate that Monson includes at the end of each chapter a list of books to consult for more information and that she has footnoted all of her resources. This will be a good resource for students because it will be easy to understand and is concise. That said, it does have a few drawbacks. I truly wish Monson had restrained herself from adding her own personal thoughts and commentary at the end of each chapter. Surely each woman's life should speak for itself and different readers will likely have diverse lessons they need to learn from each woman's life. I am also beginning to detest the word "grit" which is currently being overused in a wide variety of venues. Enough with your grit everyone. Please look for a more deliberate and appropriate word to reflect your presentation, theories, and opinions. Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.
    PlsPassTheBooks More than 1 year ago
    As I happen to be in the midst of a frontier book and movie binge-marathon, I wanted so badly to love this book…and I really tried to. I learned a lot about women I'd never heard of, but it took a ridiculous amount of effort to push through the pages of this well-intended manuscript. I'm not sure Clara Brown herself could have gotten through the whole thing, even if she'd been able to read (you'll learn about her if you pick up a copy). I have two beefs with Frontier Grit… 1. It's poorly written and reads like an 8th grade history project. Clearly the author did a lot of research in compiling information (as evidenced by the references and bibliography at the end of each chapter), but the execution of the writing itself is mediocre at best. 2. You either present an unbiased representation, or you don't. Here, the author appears to make her best effort with the former, but then closes each chapter with her own opinion, dumbing down for her readers why it should be their opinion too. And when I say "dumbing down", I mean taking something already written at a middle school level, and then patronizing readers further by talking to them like they're actually second graders. The book is worthy of three stars based on research alone, and perhaps half a star for execution…on the grounds that I'm passing it off to my thirteen-year old daughter, who might get more out of it than me (me, being an adult who likes to read books written to a higher standard). I'd like to thank NetGalley and the publisher, Shadow Mountain Publishing, for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which this certainly is.