“Dr. Wilson (note: her husband) has determined to go to California. I am going with him as there is no other alternative…Oh, my dear mother…I thought I felt bad when I wrote you from Independence, but it is nothing like this.” ~ Margaret Hereford Wilson (grandmother of General Patton), 1850
Swales from 19th century covered wagon wheels are still imprinted in the ground two blocks from my house. I live in Prairie Village, Kansas, after all. Limestone markers identify the confluence of the Santa Fe, Oregon and California Trails.
The deep impact of this mass migration still exists in other ways as well. This land, the home of indigenous people for thousands of years, was irreparably taken and altered.
Since college I had moved an unread book from bookshelf to bookshelf. Realizing my proximity to history, I finally picked up “Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey” by Lillian Schlissel and read the firsthand accounts.
The majority of women did not want to go west but had no choice. Most were married by age 15. Along the trail they gave birth, took care of children and livestock, crossed rivers and mountains, withstood untold hardship, and buried loved ones in shallow graves.
All the while they maintained the Victorian customs and dress of the day. There is no mention of how they kept their privacy, relieved themselves or gave birth surrounded by other pioneers in these stark settings.
“Prairie Wind” imagines the loneliness of a young woman traveling west and settling in an unforgiving landscape after an arranged marriage. Not likely to see her family and friends again, I pictured the ever-present wind becoming her companion. “I will be your comfort here”.
What a complicated legacy our history weaves.
In appreciation of resilience and its many forms,
P.S. Robert Bowlin played a rare 1937 Recording King, Carson Robinson model K guitar on the official recording of “Prairie Wind”.
Prairie Wind video:
Joy Zimmerman, a soulful singer/songwriter, explores the everyday and the extraordinary with a captivating voice. Her songs resonate with humor, triumph and humanity. Joy’s seventh studio album, The Canvas Before Us, an acoustic reinvention, is available now.