Covered Wagon Women

Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, 1840–1890, Vol. 1, 1840–1849


The study of women’s history has blossomed during the past two decades, and the result has been the production of several outstanding works on the subject. Covered Wagon Women is one of the latest contributions to this growing field of investigation. It is a useful work that makes available to historian and buff alike several fascinating letters and diaries written by women involved in the westward movement of the 1840s. The editor, Kenneth L. Holmes, and the publisher, the Arthur H. Clark Company, have undertaken an ambitious project, and, once completed, the proposed ten volumes in this series will certainly serve as a benchmark in this field’s historiography.

The material presented in this first volume has been arranged by the editor into twelve chapters with entries by fourteen women. These accounts are representative rather than exhaustive. However, there are important documents discussing the experiences of several intelligent and articulate women on the Oregon, California, Santa Fe, and Mormon trails. The editor chose his documents well. They are all primary resources, written at the time of the incidents described or immediately thereafter. More important, Holmes did not reprint commonly used diaries. I was pleasantly surprised that Susan Magoffin’s diary of her trip to Santa Fe in 1846 was not included in the collection. It is an outstanding diary but readily available elsewhere. Instead, Holmes scoured the nation’s archives and libraries, and solicited copies of documents from individuals, to assemble what should be considered an exemplary collection of manuscripts.


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