In the pioneering spirit out West

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We just spent two weeks tooling around out West, above and across the plains and Rockies. I experienced the entirety of Wyoming, the Southern half of Utah, and Northwestern Nevada. We ran Donner’s pass and the Grapevine, went from El Paso to Ohio. For those of you who have been there, you know what I mean when I say I’ve seen some incredible things. For those of you who haven’t, I strongly suggest you befriend a trucker and see the country, because you live in a beautiful place.

As we rolled across the vastness of Northern Wyoming, I was put in the mind of our ancestors, the pioneers and adventuresome souls who braved this hash land with nothing more than a wooden box on wheels and full of flour, a few scraggly beasts of burden, and a carton of smokes. These folks slogged across, all the way from the East coast, and this was way before I-40 was finished through Arkansas. (Not that it matters, because I-40 has never in the history of mankind been entirely open, and they’d have gotten hung up in Little Rock for sure.)

Coming into Utah from the East is like stepping onto the surface of another planet. I can’t help but think how very faithful the Mormons had to have been to continue over the mountains, toward Salt Lake City. I’d have definitely stopped in Fruitland, but they pressed on. I imagine their relief, as they came down into the valley and saw the Great Salt Lake, and a 24-hour Denny’s. Little did they know the lake didn’t have potable water, and the breakfast grill at Denny’s was closed. They turned their cattle loose to drink, the cows all got a bellyful of salt water and croaked where they stood. Also, no one could order pancakes. But the Mormons kept faith, built a temple and made beef jerky, which they’re famous for today, and send their youth door to door to sell. (So when they knock on your door and ask if they can speak to you about the word of God, they might be trying to sell you beef jerky. Consumer beware.)

I saw a sign in an Iron Skillet in El Paso that made me really think about the role women played in settling the West. It read, “In the covered wagon days, if a baby was born in Texarkana while the family was crossing into the Lone Star State, by the time they reached El Paso, the baby would be in the third grade.”


I don’t know about you, but I try not to eat a big meal and get on the road, much less impregnate myself with another human being. The implications of being pregnant and traveling in anything that doesn’t have air-ride seats is horrifying. The thought of actually producing a child while in Texarkana is absolutely unthinkable. These women had babies one day and pulled an ox cart the next. Here’s the conversation in the ox-cart pit:

“Emma, you look a little pale. What’s ailin’ you?”

“Well, the twins were born yesterday, I had to labor for three days while trying to get out of a traffic jam in Little Rock.”

“Well bless your heart. Is that why you’re only pulling one ox cart today? Because the girls think you’re just slackin’ back here, they each have two and a young’un on each hip. Just sayin’.”

Yes, even Pioneer women were catty.

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