Poor Molly Weaver and her mom! In The Sister’s Search, the pair travel hundreds of bone-shaking miles from Ohio to central Texas, first by comparatively comfortable railroad, then by local stagecoach lines, then wagon, and finally on horseback.
The story is set in 1865, just after the end of the Civil War. Everywhere, travel was chaotic and downright dangerous. Travelers couldn’t depend on finding transportation on a long trip, or hope for consistent timetables and guarantees for their own safe delivery—let alone that of their luggage.
We have it so good! Even if your flight is canceled or you have a flat tire, you’re in a far better situation than that of women traveling long distances 150 years ago. We have cell phones for instant communication. We have insurance and credit cards and so many more resources than Molly and Emma had.
I have great admiration for Carrie Adell Strahorn, author of Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage. She was a woman who covered those miles with her husband. True, she wasn’t traveling alone, which would have been much more difficult, but still. Fifteen thousand miles?
Her husband, Robert E. Strahan, had written a book, published in 1877, about the scenic attractions, resources, and climate of Wyoming territory. Jay Gould of the Union Pacific Company read it and loved it. He offered Mr. Strahorn a job traveling throughout the western states and territories and writing a book about each. Strahorn would also set up a literary bureau and advertising department for the Union Pacific. What a way to advertise the West!
Carrie and Robert had been married only a week when this once-in-a-lifetime offer came. They discussed it, and Robert agreed to do it—if his bride could accompany him.
According to Mrs. Strahorn’s preface in her book (published after more than three decades of travel with her husband), “That stipulation the railroad officials emphatically refused. They said no woman could endure the hardships and conditions of travel then required on routes far away from the railroad, and added that he would be constantly hampered and delayed in his work.”
Robert Strahorn dug in his heels. Without Carrie by his side, he wouldn’t do it. Apparently the Union Pacific officials were just as stubborn. Mrs. Strahorn says, “They argued and reasoned, then demurred, relented, and finally consented.”
The Strahorns traveled almost constantly for thirty-four years, across every stagecoach road in the West. They visited every state and territory between the Mississippi and the Pacific, and from Canada to Mexico. Mrs. Strahan’s book, first published in 1911, gives much insight into the wonders they saw and experiences most women of the day would never meet.
In one chapter she describes a night at a halfway station in Idaho that had no accommodations for passengers. When Mr. Strahorn, whom his wife called “Pard,” asked where they were to sleep, he was told there wasn’t a bed within twenty miles. The passengers would be camping out in the one-room building that served as a station, post office, and the agent’s home. Since the temperature sank to below freezing in the night, that seemed a better option than sleeping in the stagecoach.
There were twenty-six men present, and Carrie was the only woman. She suffered through a night of snoring and a frigid draft coming through the gap beneath the door.
She says, “Day had not yet come when someone began quietly to renew the fire. Groping about the floor for some kindling, the fire builder got hold of my foot, and it scared him nearly out of his senses, for those were days when men died for less cause than that.”
His apologies were profuse. The Strahorns later traveled that way several times, and the man always referred to this incident at his “narrow escape.”
Yes, there were hardships, boredom, and frustration, but she saw so much, and she was able to help other women along the way.
These were Victorian Times. While social customs were more relaxed in the American West than in Victoria’s England, rules of etiquette still prevailed. If at all possible, women were to travel with a male escort. They were expected to dress plainly to avoid unwanted attention. Women were warned to let their male escort carry their money or valuables during travel. If traveling alone out of necessity, they should have a strong pocket stitched into a petticoat and carry only a small amount in their dress or coat pockets.
Women were warned against conversing too much with fellow travelers. If a woman had to travel alone, she was advised to sit next to another woman whenever she could and to keep her conversation pleasant, polite, and to a minimum. Oh, yes, times have changed!
QUESTION for readers:
What advice would you give to a woman setting out alone on a long journey today? Be sure to comment! I will be giving away a copy of Book 1 in this series, The Rancher’s Legacy, now a finalist in the 2022 Will Rogers Medallion competition.
In The Rancher’s Legacy (Book 1, the giveaway prize), Rachel Maxwell returns to Colorado from the East to find her father dead and his ranch under attack. She rejects the suitor her father chose for her, neighbor Matt Anderson. Meanwhile, Ryland Atkins is searching for Matt to tell him his grandmother in Maine wants to see him before she dies.
Book 3 in the Homeward Trails series, The Sister’s Search, releases July 19. It’s now on pre-order here: https://scrivenings.link/thesisterssearch
Blurb for The Sister’s Search:
Molly Weaver and her widowed mother embark on an arduous journey at the end of the Civil War. They hope to join Molly’s brother Andrew on his ranch in Texas. When they arrive, Andrew is missing and squatters threaten the ranch. Can they trust Joe, the stranger who claims to be Andrew’s friend?
Joe’s offer to help may be a godsend—or a snare. And who is the man claiming to be Molly’s father? If he’s telling the truth, Molly’s past is a sham, and she must learn where she really belongs.
About the author:
Susan Page Davis is the author of more than one hundred published novels and novellas in the historical romance, mystery, and romantic suspense genres. She’s a winner of the Carol Award and a two-time winner of the Will Rogers Medallion and the Faith, Hope & Love Reader’s Choice Award. A Maine native, she now lives in Kentucky.
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