Pioneer Women Heading West

By Elise Skarda

Women heading out West in 1849 had to endure many a trial. Before their lives were changed, these women would sit and visit, drinking tea and gardening the occasional flower. A lot of their husbands were established businessmen, working hard day after day. Some husbands were laborers, their wives working beside them in the hot sun, but neither lifestyle could prepare these women for heading West.
Sometimes the women were the ones to suggest that the family should move West. Other times, their husbands simply announced one day that they were moving West without any input from the family. It wasn't fair to anyone, but not much was fair for pioneers traveling West. Usually the pioneers were from established cities in eastern land.
This is a family who is heading westward. It isn't a coincidence that none of them are smiling. Traveling West was a great challenge, and many weren't up for the challenge. Death, sickness, and the fear of Indians hung over every wagon, tampering with the minds of those within.
Wagon Train Adventure
Once it was decided that these families were leaving, the task of packing the wagon fell to the women. They would have to make the hard decisions of what to pack and what to leave behind. Soon, these women realized that an old family heirloom was no longer as important as it seemed a week ago. If they packed too much, heavy furniture would be thrown on the side of the path when families had to cross rivers. On the road, mothers would often have to deliver a baby without a doctor, and many newborns died that way. Then the mothers would have to bury their child on the side of the road in a hurry, with the knowledge that they would never be able to visit their child's grave again. Mothers would also have to bury their young if a child fell out of the wagon or became ill and died. The wagons traveled fast, and falling out meant instant death. Pioneer mothers had to go through unbearable heartbreak, yet they were strong and made it through the toughest times of their lives.
As soon as a family arrived in the West, daughters as young as 14 or 15 would be forced to marry. Usually their husbands would be farmhands from back home; a familiar face and a little help was all it took for parents to marry off their daughters.

A woman's job would not stop once their traveling did. Winter was coming fast, and families needed a warm house, so many a wife was forced to take up an ax alongside their husbands. After the house was built and the family had made it through the winter, the task of planting a garden fell to the women. Their light gardening out east had not prepared them to grow their own food, and they were forced to learn heavy-duty gardening techniques quickly. Despite the hardships, most women said that if they were given the chance to travel West again, they would do it because in the end, it was worth tear shed.