Elinore Pruitt

Elinore Pruitt

Elinore Pruitt was born at Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1876. She spent most of her childhood in Oklahoma (Indian Territory). Her schooling came to an end when her teacher was lynched by a group of local men. At the age of fourteen both her parents died. She now had the task of raising her eight younger brothers and sisters. The three youngest were taken to live with their grandmother whereas Elinore and the five older children went to work for the local railroad company.

Elinore eventually married a man much older than her. He was killed in an accident and despite having a young child, she trained to become a nurse. Elinore worked at a hospital in Burnfork but in her spare time wrote articles for the Kansas City Star. Later she moved with her daughter, Jerrine, to Denver, where she found work as a cook.

In 1909 Elinore went to work for Clyde Stewart, at his isolated ranch in Wyoming. Six weeks later she married the 41 year old widower. Over the next few years the couple had four children. The first one died but the three boys survived childhood.

Elinore wrote regular letters to Mrs Coney, a former employer. Coney was impressed with the standard of Elinore's writing and arranged for them to be published in Atlantic Monthly. They also appeared in two books, Letters of a Woman Homesteader (1914) and Letters on an Elk Hunt (1915).

In 1926 Elinore Pruitt Stewart was badly injured when mowing hay. The horse bolted and she was run over by the mower. She never completely recovered from her injuries and died in 1933.

Primary Sources

(1) Elinore Pruitt Stewart, letter to Mrs. Coney (24th August, 1914)

Neither the children nor I can ride under cover on a wagon, we get so sick; so there we were, perched high up on

great rolls of bedding and a tent. I reckon we looked funny to the " onlookers looking on" as we clattered down the street; but we were off and that meant a heap.

All the morning our way lay up the beautiful river, past the great red cliffs and through tiny green parks, but just before noon the road wound itself up on to the mesa, which is really the beginning of the desert. We crowded into the shadow of the wagons to eat our midday meal; but we could not stop long, because it was twenty-eight miles to where we could get water for the horses when we should camp that night. So we wasted no time.

(2) Elinore Pruitt Stewart, letter to Mrs. Coney (24th August, 1914)

Mrs. O'Shaughnessy was determined to drive ahead; so she trotted up alongside, but she could not get ahead. The young people were giggling. Mrs. O'Shaughnessy doesn't like to be the joke all the time. Suddenly she leaned over toward them and said: "Will ye tell me something?" Oh, yes, they would. "Then," she said, "which of you are Tea and which Coffee?"

Their answer was to drive up faster and stir up a powerful lot of dust. They kept pretty well ahead after that, but at sundown we came up with them at the well where we were to camp. This well had been sunk by the county for the convenience of travelers, and we were mighty thankful to find it. It came out that our young couple were bride and groom. They had never seen each other until the night before, having met through a matrimonial paper. They had met in Green River and were married that morning, and the young husband was taking her away up to Pinedale to his ranch.

I think we all enjoyed camp that night, for we were all tired. We were in a shallow little canyon - not a tree, not even a bush except sagebrush. Luckily, there was plenty of that, so we had roaring fires. We sat around the fire talking - as the blue shadows faded into gray dusk and the big stars came out. The newlyweds were, as the bride put it, " so full of happiness they had nothing to put it in." Certainly their spirits overflowed. They were eager to talk of themselves and we didn't mind listening.

They are Mr. and Mrs. Tom Burney. She is the oldest of a large family of children and has had to "work out ever since she was big enough to get a job." The people she had worked for rather frowned upon any matrimonial ventures, and as no provision was made for " help" entertaining company, she had never had a "beau." One day she got hold of a matrimonial paper and saw Mr. Burney's ad. She answered and they corresponded for several months. We were just in time to "catch it," as Mr. Haynes - who is a confirmed bachelor - disgustedly remarked.

(3) Elinore Pruitt Stewart, letter to Mrs. Coney (28th August, 1914)

We are almost across the desert, and I am really becoming interested. The difficulties some folks work under are enough to make many of us ashamed. In the very center of the desert is a little settlement called Eden Valley. Imagination must have had a heap to do with its name, but one thing is certain: the serpent will find the crawling rather bad if he attempts to enter this Eden, for the sand is hot; the alkali and the cactus are there, so it must be a serpentless Eden. The settlers have made a long canal and bring their water many miles. They say the soil is splendid, and they don't have much stone; but it is such a flat place. I wonder how they get the water to run when they irrigate.

We saw many deserted homes. Hope's skeletons they are, with their yawning doors and windows like eyeless sockets. Some of the houses, which looked as if they were deserted, held families. We camped near one such. Mrs. O'Shaughnessy and I went up to the house to buy some eggs. A hopeless looking woman came to the door. The hot winds and the alkali dust had tanned her skin and bleached her hair; both were a gray-brown. Her eyes were blue, but were so tired-looking that I could hardly see for the tears.

"No," she said, " we ain't got no eggs. We ain't got no chickens. You see this ground is sandy, and last year the wind blowed awful hard and all the grain blowed out, so we did not have no chance to raise chickens. We had no feed and no money to "buy feed, so we had to kill our chickens to save their lives. We eat them. They would have starved anyway."

(4) Elinore Pruitt Stewart, letter to Mrs. Coney (31st August, 1914)

We were sitting in the scant shadow of the wagons eating our dinner when we were startled to see a tall, bareheaded man come racing down the draw. His clothes and shoes were in tatters; there were great blisters on his arms and shoulders where the sun had burned him; his eyes were swollen and red, and his lips were cracked and bloody. His hair was so white and so dusty that altogether he was a pitiful-looking object. He greeted us pleasantly, and said that his name was Olaf Swanson and that he was a sheepherder; that he had seen us and had come to ask for a little smoking. By that he meant tobacco.

Mrs. O'Shaughnessy was eyeing him very closely. She asked him when he had eaten. That morning, he said. She asked him what he had eaten; he told her cactus balls and a little rabbit. I saw her exchange glances with Professor Glenholdt, and she left her dinner to get out her war-bag.

She called Olaf aside and gently dressed his blisters with listerine; after she had helped him to clean his mouth she said to him, "Now, Olaf, sit by me and eat; show me how much you can eat. Then tell me what you mean by saying you are a sheepherder; don't you think we know there will be no sheep on the desert before there is snow to make water for them?"

"I am what I say I am," he said. "I am not herding now because sorrow has drove me to dig wells. It is sorrow for horses.

(5) Elinore Pruitt Stewart, letter to Mrs. Coney (12th September, 1914)

The air is so bracing that we all feel equal to anything. Mr. Struble has already killed a fine "spike" elk for camp eating. We camped in a bunch, and we have camp stoves so that in case of rain or snow we can stay indoors. Just now we have a huge camp fire around which we sit in the evening, telling stories, singing, and eating nuts of the pinon pine. Then too the whole country is filled with those tiny little strawberries. We have to gather all day to get as much as we can eat, but they are delicious. Yesterday we had pie made of wild currants; there are a powerful lot of them here. There is also a little blueberry that the men say is the Rocky Mountain huckleberry. The grouse are feeding on them. Altogether this is one of the most delightful places imaginable. The men are not very anxious to begin hunting. A little delay means cooler weather for the meat. It is cool up here, but going back across the desert it will be warm for a while yet. Still, when they see elk every day it is a great temptation to try a shot.

(6) Elinore Pruitt Stewart, letter to Mrs. Coney (25th October, 1914)

How happy I have been, looking over the place! Some young calves have come while we were gone; a whole squirming nest full of little pigs. My chickens have outgrown my knowledge. There is no snow here at all. Our experiences on our trip seem almost unreal, but the wagonload of meat to be attended to is a reminder of realities. I have had a fine trip; I have experienced about all the human emotions. I had not expected to encounter so many people or to get the little inside glimpses that I've had, but wherever there are human beings there are the little histories. I have come home realizing anew how happy I am, how much I have been spared, and how many of life's blessings are mine.