Cowboy Jam Session: Weaving the stories of women’s lives
for Tri-State Livestock News
March is National Women’s History Month. This year’s theme, “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives,” presents the opportunity to weave women’s stories–individually and collectively–into the essential fabric of our nation’s history.
As stated on the National Women’s History Project website, “There is a real power in hearing women’s stories, both personally and in a larger context. Remembering and recounting tales of our ancestors’ talents, sacrifices, and commitments inspires today’s generations and opens the way to the future.” (For more on the 35th anniversary of the Women’s History Movement and the National Women’s History Project, go to http://www.nwhp.org/.)
Ankle High and Knee Deep: Women Reflect on Western Rural Life
(TwoDot, 2014, 256 pages, paperback ISBN-13: 978-0762792115)
Edited by Gail L. Jenner, this is a collection of memoirs and reflections exploring the world of modern rural women. Grouped into chapters on Fortitude, Horse Sense, Community, Self-Reliance, Memory, Resilience and Lessons, their insights represent a wide range of ages, backgrounds, experiences and localities.
More than 50 women are counted among the writers and photographers whose works are represented. Some grew up in the country. Others gravitated there from the city. Their essays speak of connection to the landscape and the lifestyle. Find a complete listing of authors in the “Look Inside” feature at Amazon.com. In its first week on Amazon, the book reached number three among top-selling books on rural/country living. It is available in paperback and as an e-book.
(Plume, 2014, 336 pages, paperback ISBN-13: 978-0142180785)
Marisa Silver constructs a poignant historical novel, intertwining photographer and subject in Mary Coin. Based on “Migrant Mother,” Dorothea Lange’s photograph of Florence Owens Thompson and three of her children, Silver delves into the lives of both women whose trails crossed alongside a dusty California road in 1936. Their chance meeting, captured on a 4”x5” Graflex negative, resulted in what arguably may be this nation’s most recognizable image. The caption as provided by the Library of Congress reads: “Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California.” (See this and other photos taken of Thompson that day at http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/list/128_migm.html.)
A New York Times bestseller and an NPR Best Book, Silver’s fictionalized treatment of the characters leading up to and following the making of the Depression-era image is skillful, sensitive and mesmerizing. It’s a compelling read, pulling you westward at an increasing speed and leaving you forever touched for the experience of traveling in their company.
Mary Coin is available in hardback, paperback, e-book and audio book. Look for it in bookstores and from online booksellers. Read an excerpt at http://www.npr.org/books/titles/172904173.
The Life and Legend of Calamity Jane, book #29 in the Oklahoma Western Biographies series
(University of Oklahoma Press, 2014, 400 pages, hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0806146324)
Veteran western historian Richard W. Etulain dissects the myth behind Martha Jane Canary. Analyzing events that inspired the legend, Professor Etulain mines more than 150 years of fodder churned out by newspaper editors and dime novelists who embellished the Wild West heroine’s often rebellious antics.
Etulain’s research tracks the hard-drinking, cigar-smoking, profanity-prone Martha Jane from the Missouri farm where she was born in 1856, to mining boom towns across the West, to performance venues in the East, and finally to Terry, SD, where she died in 1903. He dispels a myriad of fables linked to Calamity Jane’s colorful persona through a careful study of newspapers, biographical information, novels and films. Etulain also reveals her softer side as a mother and an unflinching angel of mercy to the infirm.
Calamity roamed throughout the West, never staying in one place for long. Newspapers in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota were rife with accounts of her comings and goings. While familiar with a photograph of Calamity Jane taken by notable frontier photographer L.A. Huffman, Miles City, Montana Territory, I was unaware that she lived near there. In fact, Calamity lived about 20 miles west of Miles City in 1882-83. She also lived near Ekalaka, in what is now Carter County, Montana.
The Life and Legend of Calamity Jane is available in print and as an e-book.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News