Pioneer Women of Dixie
Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, WPA Federal Writers' Project Collection.
PIONEER WOMEN OF DIXIE
An Original Paper by Zaidee Walker Miles,
and given by her at the Dedication of the Daughters of the Pioneers Monument
in St. George, Utah, September 2nd, 1936
Some of the finest and most splendid women who left their homes and loved
ones, to follow in the footsteps of the Master, came to the Dixie Country
in the years 1861 and '63. This was not their first experience in pioneer
life. For most of them had crossed the great plains and mountains of America
to pioneer the valley of the Great Salt Lake; so in a measure they were prepared
for the dangers and difficulties that awaited them in one of the most unconquered
countries of the earth. But their Prophet and Leader had called, and they,
no less brave than their stalwart husbands, followed where they led.
From all climes and countries, from all conditions and ranks in life they
came. All with one purpose, to answer the call of He, who was the mouthpiece
of God unto them. In October 1861 President Young called the first company
to go south and colonize the Dixie Country. Many had comfortable homes but
they left all and again took up the weary march to subdue and make pleasant
the waste places of Zion. And so they started, those brave ones, following
the trail in the wilderness. After weeks of road making, over hills and through
deep canyons and gorges, they, the dauntless, set foot in the lifeless valley
of the Virgin December 1861. Jane Fawcett and Alice Thompson were the two
first women on the old camp ground. Mrs. Fawcett's two daughters, Hannah
and Deseret, were the only girls. For two or three days their wagons stood
alone until others of the company came in.
What a sight met their eyes, hills and hills and ever more hills. No trees,
not much water, red sand, black rocks, greasewood, mesquite, and rabbit brush
were all. I hardly think they raised their eyes to the wonders of the mountains
with their rainbow hues, with their purple shadows at sunset and rosy veils
at sunrise. The small streams for the red bluffs murmured on with quiet ripples.
The wind moaned or lulled, ever carrying with its sighing, the burden of
fine red sand. The solemn days passed and dreamy nights with their countless
marching stars, testifying -- that all is well with the world, and God is
in heaven. Peace and silence reigned. The desert resented the touch of the
white man, and for the first time since the morning of creation, white woman
gazed on this scene of awful grandeur and desolation.
But the light of faith shown from the eyes of those pioneer women and the
strength of conquest filled their hearts; there they stood, not to be swallowed
by the desert, that resented their tenderness, but to woo it and in time
From many parts of the earth they came, bringing their traditions, their
stories, their folklore, and their songs with them. These with their talents
and their lives were cast into the "melting pot" of Dixie and from it have
come forth men and women with the strength of the hills in their very beings
and with love and admiration for the very ruggedness of their dear southern
land. New England with her thrift and carefulness gave us of her best, women
that knew how to make both ends meet, who knew how to get the best and most
out of everything, who knew that economy was their life and salvation. From
the South came a very splendid class of women, big-hearted and hospitable,
ready and willing to aid with the colonizing of this barren land. Many splendid
and big-souled women came from the middle Atlantic and central states. From
the rugged hills of Scotland they came also, bringing with them the memory
of heather-covered hearths and Annie Laurie and auld Lan Suie. But best of
all they brought a stubborn will that refused to be conquered and an abiding
faith in God. From Wales they came with their sweet songs, their strong faith.
The Swiss women brought their Alpine songs also their traditions of Easter
and Christmas and with them a very superior knowledge of tilling the soil
and making a living where others would starve. The English women from all
walks in life came with the rest to that never-to-be-forgotten camp grounds.
Her gifts to the desert were right living, a clear conscience, a rare bit
of refinement that was a stranger in this country. She, with the women of
other nations that made up the immortals of that company, knew how to suffer,
and endure to the end without complaining.
From every land they came, giving of their best to the desert, and it in
turn taking their youth and strength. With dread I think of the first summer.
Their suffering was intense. No shade, no fruit; vegetables scarce, not much
milk and no butter, poor water and that warm. Winds, hot and scorching; days,
long and blinding; nights, close and sultry; nothing to protect them from
flies and tormenting insects; sick babies, with no comforts. Is it any wonder
that many slept before their time? This was the life of the pioneer woman.
In the early days there were no organizations for the women and very few
diversions. The young girls would take their knitting, carding or braiding
and go to some home where an elderly lady would read aloud to them. Sister
Houston, a good reader, is mentioned with loving memories by one of the girls
The household machinery was of a simple nature. If the careless wife forgot
to bank her fire overnight, the next morning she must scurry forth for the
loan of a little fire. With shovel in hand she would watch for smoke, then
make haste for a live coal. Often there would be ten or twelve persons on
the same errand. Woe betide the person who had only greasewood or rabbit
brush for fuel. And how fortunate those who had mesquite because of its intense
heat and lasting qualities.
Salt-rising bread was the most common kind in use and neighbors frequently
exchanged emptyings in order to get a start. Tallow candles could not be
made in the summer because of the heat, so a bit of rag tied around a button
in a dish of grease was used for lighting. The styles changed slowly. Someone
would go to Salt Lake City and returning would bring some new cut of skirt.
Mrs. Mary Ann Sullivan relates that she spun 2 1/2 lbs. of fine thread for
Sister Anna L. Ivins to repay her for cutting a gored skirt pattern. She
laughingly remarked, "that was the last pattern I ever worked for. I cut
my own from then on." Clothing gave out that was brought with them, then
real want became known. They turned to the spinning wheel and loom. Some
became very expert spinners making a smooth even warp for cloth. The filling
could be made with less care and skill. Others were skillful with the dye
kettle and many beautiful hues were produced by dipping and redipping in
baths of indigo madder, copperus chaparral (creosote bush) and the despised
rabbit brush. Looms were made by Brother Woodard and Brother Needham taught
many of the pioneer women the art of weaving. Mary B. Eyring was a very good
weaver, making a smooth web, with well-arranged patterns, Mira Kelsey Hunt
writes, "My mother was a weaver. She would cord, spin, and weave. I can remember
well her weaving a dress for Eliza Lund and myself on the same piece. It
was sheep's gray, madder red, and Indigo blue checks.
Soap was a problem that the pioneer women was forced to solve. Like many
other pioneer problems it was worked out right in her own home. Fortunately
for her soft wood trees were found on the creek bottoms, and the ashes of
the cottonwood and willow were rich in lye, which was leached out by pouring
water on a quantity of ashes contained in a barrel. The dripping from this
barrel was received in a container, then united with grease, which formed
a soft soap. Loads of saleratus were brought in from the low lands; this
united with lime and grease in the right proportions made a hard soap. Failing
to get either of these the never-to-be-thwarted pioneer woman took to the
hills, and dug the oose root, which produced a wonderful suds, that cleansed
without fading the color or injuring the fabric.
The sick were not neglected, the pioneer nurse with her superior knowledge
is not forgotten, and with love and almost reverence, the name of Sister
Stanton, Grandmother Atwood, Grandmother Atchinson, Aunt Dicey Perkins, Mother
Hardy, Sister Barns, and Sister Church who trained under Loudica Perkins
are mentioned with loving thoughts. There were English gentlewomen who are
remembered for their exquisite manners, and the refining effect they had
upon the pioneer woman. Some stand out more predominately than others, among
those fresh in my memory were -- the Calkins women, Aunt Hannah Perkins,
Anne P. Jarvis, Orpha M. Everett, Harriet Blake, Emma Gates, Emma Morris,
Mrs. Dodge, Emily Brooks, [and] Jane Blake, who is still alive and at the
age of 87 is still working in the Temple. With tender thoughts of love I
mention Wilhelmina Cannon, who came here a young bride. She was so discouraged
over the dreary outlook, her heart was filled with sorrow and she longed
to go back. Her husband, David H. Cannon encouraged her all he could and
told her the country would yet be beautiful and blossom like a rose. She
replied if she could but have one flower she would be content. David hunted
for days and finally found a beautiful Sego Lily. This he brought to her
with love. She felt comforted and lived many years in this land, learning
to love it.
The school, the dramatics, and the song, each received encouragement in the
early days of the Mission. Mary Everett was mentioned as taking a leading
part in the school life of the pioneer women and girls. Aunt Mary Snow Gates
has honorable mention as one of the leading lights in intellectual development.
She was well-read, far above the average woman, and she did much in molding
the opinions of women by her conversation. She was a wonderful woman, filled
with knowledge and wisdom. It is small wonder that her influence was felt
in intellectual channels.
The Indians did much to worry and harass the lives of the pioneers. They
drove off the stock, destroyed property, and filled women's hearts with terror.
Dr. Whitemore and young McIntyre were killed by them in the hills around
Canaan. The young men were called to go out and guard the passes, recover
the stock, and find the bodies of the murdered men. The weather was intensely
cold, the snow in the mountains deep. Their food gave out. Word was brought
in that the boys were suffering for the want of food. They had lived on meat
until all were sick. Mrs. Phillip Lewis took up the work of gathering bread
to relieve the distress of the sick boys. She called on Annie Jarvis (later
Ann C. J. Milne) to assist her. With sacks in hand they trudged the streets
asking for bread. Some gave a slice, others a biscuit. Once in a while a
loaf was given, sometimes a small quantity of flour. Food was scarce. People
had little to give, but gave all they could. The women secured quite a nice
little amount, also some red peppers. Mrs. Lewis toasted and sacked the bread
and put the red peppers in a keg of vinegar. This was sent to the boys and
after an exclusive meat diet, it was received with thanks and gratitude.
Aunt Annie says, "The boys said it saved their lives."
Time passed on. Conditions improved. More comforts were obtained and the
strenuous life of the pioneer woman eased up. But she too passed on, and
is now resting in the warm sunshine on the hillside. Life with its hardships
and sorrows, with its joys and success has ceased. Her hands are folded now
over her breast. She awaits the last call. With her passing, one of the sweetest
and bravest things ever created by the hands of her maker has left. May her
rest be sweet and her salvation sure. She has not lived in vain.
Oh may she join that choir invisible, of those immortal dead, who live again
in minds made better by their presence; felt pure love; begot the smiles
that have no cruelty; be the sweet presence of a good diffused and in diffusion
evermore intense -- so shall they join the choir invisible, whose music is
the gladness of the world. Their faults we write upon the sand; their virtues
we chisel upon the tablets of love and memory.
Given first at the Daughters of the Pioneers Meeting, St. George, Utah, Sunday,
January 27, 1924.
by Zaidee W. Miles