When I was growing up in the 1950s, women in epic western movies were one-dimensional characters. They were all good (or sometimes all bad.) While the men were strong and tough and competent, fighting off bad guys, stopping stampedes, and bringing the wagons through, the women cooked. They were dumb as sticks and always had to be rescued. They were always pretty, of course and no matter what happened, their makeup was perfect. Even as a kid, I cringed at the idea women were like that.
As I began studying western history, I realized female pioneers were far more complicated. Yes, they cooked, and they cared for the children, and they gave birth. But they also worked side by side with their men doing the heavy lifting. I wanted to write a story that showed women were the equal of men, and frankly, maybe just a tiny bit better. As one character in Westering Women says, they did everything the men did and were somewhat more polite.
Westering Women has been in the back of my mind ever since I started writing fiction. Still, it was a hard book to write, requiring numerous drafts. I started with a cast of thousands and whittled them down to a handful of women. The women are the heroes in this story of the Overland Trail. An historian who critiqued a draft told me most of the men were bad guys. So?
BY SANDRA DALLAS
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From the bestselling author of Prayers for Sale, an inspiring celebration of sisterhood on the perilous wagon-trail west:
“If you are an adventuresome young woman of high moral character and fine health, are you willing to travel to California in search of a good husband?"
It's February 1852, and all around Chicago Maggie sees the postings soliciting "eligible women" to travel to the gold mines of Goosetown. A young seamstress with a small daughter and several painful secrets, she has nothing to lose.
So she joins forty-three other women and two pious reverends on the dangerous 2,000-mile journey west. None of them are prepared for the hardships they face on the trek through the high plains, mountains, and deserts. Or for the triumphs of finding strengths they did not know they possessed. And not all will make it.
As Maggie gets to know the other women, she soon discovers that she’s not the only one looking to leave dark secrets behind. And when her past catches up with her, it becomes clear a band of sisters will do whatever it takes to protect one of their own.
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