Sketches from the Life of a Pioneer Woman
by Joe Wolff
May 17, 1937
The material on the following pages is in the form of sketches. These sketches are some of the events from the life of a pioneer woman. It could be almost any pioneer woman, but in this case it is my grandmother, a pioneer of the North Dakota Territory. Her time as a pioneer was over sixty years ago, but as in the case of any great movement, pioneering has become one of our national monuments and has lived on.
The country of several decades ago needed women like Hannah Bell. It needed women who had courage, the courage to give up all vestiges of a former life and accept the hardships of a new and unsettled country. It needed women with courage to stay at the job, the job of raising children, of caring for one’s scattered neighbors in times of need.
Statues have been raised, books written, and pictures painted to symbolize the pioneer woman. She represents the sturdiness of character, the willingness to learn, and the knowledge that there wasn’t any such thing as failure, which are qualities of all great people or worthwhile movements.
I picture my sun-bonneted grandmother striding forward against a strong wind which blew her full skirts against her limbs. The wind symbolizes doubt, fear, and despair as to the future. It was sometimes almost too strong for her but with determination she bucked it till it seemed no more than a breeze. I am proud of my grandmother.
Sketches of a Pioneer Woman
A lone spot in the bleak North Dakota prairie lands one fall day many years ago was the covered wagon belonging to Hannah and Doug Bell. Crawling along only a few miles each day, the wagon pulled by a pair of lumbering oxen bumped and lurched over the ruts and gopher holes. Hannah and Doug were going through friendless territory. This land of ruts and holes was indian country. They traveled along with a sense of freedom which knew no direction.
They were going to the buffalo country. That was enough direction for them. Day after day they rumbled over the rough prairieland and night after night they spent beside the brilliant embers of a dying fire somewhere in the midst of the western plains.
|Young Joe Wolff|
Buffalo! It was almost a magic word. Money and food for the asking. Each skin meant five dollars to the young couple. Each buffalo meant fresh meat, choice pieces of tongue and steak. By their figuring it wouldn’t be long before they would be rich. Riches meant returning home to Virginia to start as new a life as they were starting when they turned west. The new life in Virginia was reclamation, trying to build up to the former position many families enjoyed before the war. At that time the west seemed to be the one place where one could obtain capital in a hurry. Hannah and Doug Bell were going west for Virginia.
One afternoon as the glow of the western sunset was spreading itself like a gaudy Indian blanket over the bare prairieland, the dust laden wagon lumbered along its uncertain way. Hannah pulled tight on the reins and stopped the slow-gaited oxen. Ahead of her was the trunk of a lone tree with a swinging ragged piece of rope hanging from a lone limb. Her eyes fell from the rope to the foot of the tree where a freshly made mound and stone told her husband who walked ahead with the cattle, that Lame Johnny, a highway man had been lynched there a few days previously. It was one less evil for them to look out for. With that observation Hannah and Doug passed it off. With no sense of fear or repulsion they prepared to pass the night by this tree.
Hannah’s time for bearing a child was near and they could no longer use every available minute to cover the rough country. Doug made a fire from chunks of the tree and Hannah cooked their supper of jerked buffalo meat and thick black coffee. That night Hannah used the mound of Lame Johnny’s grave for a pillow. The piece of rope moving lazily in the soft breeze drugged her tired eyes. She forgot how weary and homesick she was. Hannah pulled a buffalo robe up under her chin and dropped off to sleep.