Friday, December 28, 2012

Pioneering Women by Jeff Savage: Book Review

"True Tales of the Wild West" series
Pioneering Women
Author: Jeff Savage
Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2012
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age: 12 up, Young Adult nonfiction
Pages: 48

When Agnes Morley’s father died in 1886, the family was left to fend for themselves. Agnes, her mother, and two siblings became ranchers in New Mexico, and before Agnes was even a teenager, she could saddle and ride a horse like a man, herd cattle, handle a gun, and defend the ranch against cattle rustlers. Agnes was forced to take on duties “considered man’s work,” Savage writes. However, she grew to enjoy her freedom as a young woman, and even wore a five-gallon Stetson cowboy hat, refusing to wear a sunbonnet. Agnes is representative of the brave women who traveled overland to settle the American west beginning in the 1830s, but not all women were the same, Savage explains. Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding, for instance, were the first of these women to travel west and came with their husbands as missionaries. Most women were married and had more traditional roles: raising children, cooking, running the household, etc. But like Agnes and her mother, they often learned out of necessity how to manage a homestead alone, hunt for food, and defend their property. Other more independent-minded women traveled west alone. They liked being free to do as they pleased and challenged the traditional roles of women. Calamity Jane, for example, openly drank, smoked cigars, and gambled. Some women traveled west to mine for gold. Women even became outlaws, such as Belle Starr, better known as the “Bandit Queen.” Women came as reformers and teachers, too, bringing education, morality and respect to the frontier, including suffrage. Savage does a good job summarizing the different types of women who traveled west. One chapter appears to deviate from the theme, however, and is devoted to American Indian women (e.g., Sacagawea) and Spanish women in the Southwest beginning in the 1500s. As Savage then explains, these are really the “first western women,” to settle the frontier; they share a kindred pioneering spirit with the women who traveled from the east later. Pioneering Women is aimed at older reluctant middle grade readers, but advanced readers will also find the book interesting. Black and white photos, Glossary, Index, and References are included. 

Copyright 2012 © Sharon Himsl