Women Who Settled the Midwest and the West
Image: Mollie Dorsey Sanford
Mollie, left, and her sister Nan
In 1857, the year they moved to Nebraska City
Mollie Dorsey Sanford was a young bride who crossed the plains – from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains – during the Colorado Gold Rush. Her diary, published as Mollie, the Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford in Nebraska and Colorado Territories 1857 to 1866 (1959), is regarded as one of the most accurate accounts of life on the frontier and an important document in the history of the American West.
The Midwestern United States (or Midwest) is a name for the north-central states of the United States of America. The states that are part of the Midwest are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Pioneer, Educator and Founder of Early Oregon Schools
Tabitha Moffatt Brown was an early pioneer on a treachorus journey by wagon train along the Oregon Trail in 1846. She settled with her family in Oregon Country, where she and two reverends founded Tualatin Academy in 1849, and eventually Pacific University in Forest Grove in 1854. In the Oregon State Capitol, 158 names are inscribed in the legislative chambers; only six are women. One of those is Tabitha Moffat Brown.
Tabitha Moffatt was born May 1, 1780 in Brimfield, Massachusetts, the daughter of Dr. Joseph Moffatt and Lois Haynes Moffatt. Nothing is known of her childhood. Tabitha married Reverend Clark Brown December 1, 1799, and they had four children – three sons and a daughter: Orus, Manthano, John Mattocks and Pherne (pronounced Ferny). John Mattocks died as a youngster, but the other children survived to adulthood. Reverend Brown died in 1817 and Tabitha taught school to support her family.
Member of the Tragic Donner Party
James and Margaret Reed
In 1846, Margaret Reed and husband James left Illinois on their way to the promised land of California, where they hoped to begin a new life, but their migration did not go smoothly. An early snowstorm trapped the travelers in the treacherous passes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is more the story of the Reeds than the Donners because the Reeds left diaries and letters about that tragic journey.
James Frazier Reed was one of the organizers of the wagon train that would become known as the Donner Party. Born in Ireland, he came to the United States as a young boy with his widowed mother. Reed had made a fine life for himself and his family in Illinois as a farmer and businessman, but in 1846 James and Margaret Reed caught California Fever.
Texas Rancher and Pioneer Female Trail Driver
In the mid-1800s, cattle ranching was becoming big business in Texas, but not all ranchers were men. Margaret Borland was one of the very few frontier women who ran ranches and handled her own herds. She drove 1000 head of Texas Longhorn cattle up the Chisholm Trail from south Texas to Wichita, Kansas – a tough trip for the four young children she was forced to take with her.
Margaret Heffernan was born April 3, 1824 in New York City. Her parents, both born in Ireland, had sailed to America a few years before Margaret’s birth. Her father was a candlemaker who struggled to provide a living for his family. When land agent John McMullen came to New York telling tales of lucrative opportunities available in Texas, the Heffernans agreed to join his colony.
Pioneer Woman on the Santa Fe Trail
Susan Shelby Magoffin was the young wife of a trader from the United States who traveled on the Santa Fe Trail in the late 1840s. She recorded her experiences in a diary – Down the Santa Fe Trail and Into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-1847 (1926) – which has been used extensively as a source for that period in history.
Image: 7-foot tall statue sculpted by Ethan Houser
Keystone Heritage Park
El Paso, Texas
Susan Shelby was born into a wealthy family on July 30, 1827 on their plantation near Danville, Kentucky. She was the granddaughter of Isaac Shelby, a hero of the American Revolution and the first governor of Kentucky. She grew up with servants and received a proper education.
Pioneer and Missionary in Oregon Country
Narcissa Whitman (1808-1847) traveled some 3,000 miles from her home in upstate New York to Oregon Country. She was the first white woman to cross the Rocky Mountains in 1836 on her way to found the Whitman Mission among the Cayuse Indians near modern day Walla Walla, Washington. She became one of the best known figures of the 19th century through her diaries and the many letters she wrote to family and friends in the east.
Childhood and Early Years
Narcissa Prentiss was born on March 14, 1808 in Prattsburgh, New York, the third of nine children of Stephen and Clarissa Prentiss and the oldest of their five daughters. Her father cleared land for a small farm there in 1805, and later took over the operation of a sawmill and gristmill. He was also a carpenter and used lumber from the mill to build a modest frame house, a story and a half high, for his growing family.