20: The Comforter and the Guardian
<< 19: Across the Rocky Mountains || 21: Woman as an Educator on the Frontier >>
Mind-power and heart-power—these are the forces that move the moral
universe. Which is the stronger, who shall say? If the former is within the
province of the man, the latter is still more exclusively the prerogative
of woman. With this she wins and rules her empire, with this she celebrates
her noblest triumphs, and proves herself to be the God-delegated consoler
and comforter of mankind. This is the power which moves the will to deeds
of charity and mercy, which awakens the latent sympathies for suffering
humanity, which establishes the law of kindness, soothes the irritated and
perturbed spirit, and pours contentment and happiness into the soul.
If we could collect and concentrate into one great pulsating organ all the
noble individual emotions that have stirred a million human hearts, what a
prodigious agency would that be to act for good upon the world! And yet we
may see something of the operation of just such an agency if we search the
record of our time, watch the inner movements which control society and
reflect that nearly every home contains a fractional portion of this
beneficent agency, each fraction working in its way, and according to its
measure, in harmony with all the others towards the same end.
Warm and fruitful as the sunshine, and subtle, too, as the ether which
illumines the solar walk, we can gauge the strength of this agency only by
its results. Nor can we by the symbols of language fully compass and
describe even these results.
The man of science can measure the great forces of physical nature; heat,
electricity, and light can all be gauged by mechanisms constructed by his
hand, but by no device can he measure the forces of our moral nature.
The poet, whose insight is deeper than others' into this great and
mysterious potency, can only give glimpses of its source, and draw tears by
painting, in words, the traits which it induces.
The historian and biographer can record and dwell with fondness upon the
acts of men and women, which were prompted by this power of the soul.
The moralist can point to them as examples to follow, or as cheering
evidence of the loftier impulses of humanity. But still, in its depth and
height, in its fountain, and in its remotest outflow, this power cannot be
fully measured or appreciated by any standards known to man. The
comprehensive and conceptive faculty of the imagination is wearied in
placing before itself the springs, the action, and the boundless
beneficence of this grand force, which flourishes and lives in its highest
efficiency in the breast of woman. "Thanks," cries the poet of nature and
"Thanks, to the human heart, by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, its fears."
We have shown how in all the ages since the landing, woman has proved her
title to the possession of the manly virtues. We have shown her as a
heroine, battling with the hostile powers of man and nature, and yet, even
in those cases, if we were to analyze the motives which prompted her heroic
acts, we should find them to spring at last from the source of power
whereof we are speaking. It is out of her abounding and forceful emotional
nature that she becomes a heroine. It is to relieve, to succor, or to save
her dear ones, that she is brave, strong, enduring, patient, and devoted.
Frontier life has called, upon her for the exercise of these qualities, and
she has nobly responded to the call. She fought; she toiled; she was
undaunted by the apprehension of dangers and difficulties as well as
intrepid in facing them. She bore without complaint the privations and
hardships incident to such a life, and taxed every resource of body and
mind in efforts to secure for her successors a home which neither peril nor
trial should assail.
But this did not embrace the entire circle of her acts and her influence.
To soothe, to comfort, to sustain in the trying time, to throw over the
darkest hour the brightness of her sunny presence and sweet voice—by these
influences she did more to establish and confirm, that civilization which
our race has been carrying westward, than by even those exhibitions of
manly heroism of which we have spoken.
Nine generations of men and women, through a period which a few years more
will make three centuries, have been engaged in extending the frontier
line, or have lived surrounded by circumstances similar to those which
environ the remote border. The aggregate number of these men and women
cannot be any more than estimated. Doubtless it will amount to many
millions. A million helpmeets and comforters in a million homes! Mothers,
wives, daughters, sisters—all supporting and buoying up the well-nigh
broken spirits of the "stronger sex," and, by simple words, encouraging and
stimulating to repair their desperate fortunes. Who can calculate the sum
total of such an influence as this?
Among the myriad instances of the solacing and soul-inspiring power of a
woman's voice in hours of darkness on the lonely border, we select a few
for the purpose of showing her in this her appropriate domain.
Nearly two centuries ago, in one of those heated religious controversies
which occurred in a river settlement in Massachusetts, a young man and his
wife felt themselves constrained, partly through a desire for greater
liberty of thought and action, and partly from natural energy of
disposition, to push away from the fertile valley and establish their home
on one of those bleak hillsides which form the spurs of the Green Mountain
range. Here they set up their household deities, and lit the lights of the
fireside in the darkness of the forest, and amid the wild loneliness of
nature's hitherto untended domain.
In such situations as these, not merely from their isolation, but from the
sterility of the soil and the inhospitable air of the region, the struggle
for existence is often a severe one. Perseverance and self-denial, however,
triumphed over all difficulties. Year after year the trees bowed themselves
before the axe, and the soil surrendered its reluctant treasures in the
furrow of the ploughshare.
Plenty smiled around the cabin. The light glowed on the hearth, and the
benighted traveler hailed its welcome rays as he fared towards the
Apart from the self-interest and happiness of its inmates, it was no small
benefit to others that such a home was made in that rugged country. Such
homes are the outposts of the army of pioneers: here they can pause and
rest, gathering courage and confidence when they regard them as
establishments in the same wilderness where they are seeking to plant
Five years after their arrival their house and barns were destroyed by
fire. Their cattle, farming utensils, and household furniture were all
fortunately saved, and before long the buildings were replaced, and in two
years all the ravages of the devouring element had been repaired. Again a
happy and plenteous abode rewarded the labors of the pair. Three years
rolled away in the faithful discharge of every duty incumbent upon them,
each toiling in their respective sphere to increase their store and rear
their large family of children.
A series of severe rains had kept them within doors for nearly ten days.
One afternoon as they were sitting before their fire they experienced a
peculiar sensation as though the ground on which the house stood was
moving. Running out doors, they saw that the rains had loosened the
hill-side soil from the rock on which it lay, and that it was slowly moving
into the ravine below. Hastily collecting their children, they had barely
time to escape to a rock a short distance from their house, when the
landslide carried the house and barns, with the ground on which they stood,
into the ravine, burying them and their entire contents beneath twenty feet
Almost worn out with his unremitting toils continued through ten years, and
seeing the fruits of that toil swept away in an instant, looking around him
in vain for any shelter, and far away from any helping hand, it was not
surprising that the man should have given way to despair. He wept, groaned,
and tore his hair, declaring that he would struggle no longer with fates
which proved so adverse. "Go," said he, "Mary, to the nearest house with
the children. I will die here."
His wife was one of those fragile figures which it seemed that a breath
could blow away. Hers, however, was an organization which belied its
apparent weakness. A brave and loving spirit animated that frail tenement.
Long she strove to soothe her husband's grief, but without avail.
Gathering a thick bed of leaves and sheltering her children as well as she
could from the chilly air, she returned ever and anon to the spot where her
husband sat in the stupor of despair, and uttered words of comfort and
timely suggestions of possible means of relief.
"We began with nothing, John, and we can begin with nothing again. You are
strong, and so am I. Bethink yourself of those who pass by on their way to
the great river every year at this time. These folk are good and
neighborly, and will lend us willing hands to dig out of the earth the gear
that we have lost by the landslip." Thus through the night, with these and
like expressions, she comforted and encouraged the heart-broken man, and
having at length kindled hope, succeeded in rousing him to exertion.
For two days the whole family suffered greatly while awaiting help, but
that hope which the words of the wife had awakened, did not again depart.
A party of passing emigrants, ascertaining the condition of the family, all
turned to, and having the necessary tools, soon dug down to the house and
barn, and succeeded in recovering most of the buried furniture, stores, and
utensils. The unlucky couple succeeded finally in retrieving themselves,
and years after, when the father was passing a prosperous old age in the
valley of the Mohawk, to which section the family eventually moved, he was
wont to tell how his wife had lifted him out of the depths of despair by
those kind and thoughtful words, and put new life and hope into his heart
during those dark days among the mountains of Massachusetts.
There is no section of our country where the presence of woman is so strong
for good, and where her words of lofty cheer to the stricken and distressed
are so potential as in the mountain republics on our extreme western
border. There are in that section communities composed almost entirely of
men who not only treat the few of the other sex who live among them, with a
chivalrous respect, but who listen to their words as if they were
heaven-sent messages. In one of the mining settlements of California,
during the early years of that State, an epidemic fever broke out, and
raged with great malignity among the miners. The settlement was more than
two hundred miles from San Francisco, in a secluded mountain gorge, barren
of all but the precious metal which had attracted thither a rough, and
motley multitude. There was no doctor within a hundred miles, and not a
single female to nurse and watch the forlorn subjects of the pestilence.
Mrs. Maurice, a married lady who had recently come from the east to San
Francisco with her husband, hearing of the distress which prevailed in that
mountain district, immediately set out, in company with her husband, who
heartily sympathized with her generous enterprise, and crossed the Sierra
Nevada for the purpose of ministering to the wants of the sick. She carried
a large supply of medicines and other necessaries, and after a toilsome
journey over the rough foot-paths which were then the only avenues by which
the place could be reached, arrived at the settlement. By some means the
miners had become apprised of her approach, and she was met by a cavalcade
of rough-bearded men, a score in number, mounted on mules, as a guard of
honor to escort her to the scene of her noble labors. As she came in sight,
riding down the mountain side, the escort party waved their huge hats in
the air and hurrahed as if they were mad, while the tears streamed down
their swarthy cheeks. With heads uncovered they ranged themselves on either
side of the lady and her husband, and accompanied them to the place where
the pestilence was raging. Some of the sick men rose from their beds and
stood with pale, fever-wasted faces at the doors of their wretched cabins,
and smiled feebly and tried to shout as the noble woman drew near. Their
voices were hollow and sepulchral, and the ministering angel who had
visited them witnessed this moving spectacle not without tears. For two
months she passed her time night and day in watching over and ministering
to those unfortunate men. Snatching a nap now and then, every other
available moment was given to her patients. Many died, and after receiving
their last messages to friends far away in the east, she closed their eyes
and passed on in her errand of mercy.
One of her patients thus testified to the efficacy of her ministrations:
"As I owe my recovery to her exertions, I rejoice to give my testimony to
her untiring zeal, her self-sacrificing devotion, and her angelic kindness.
She never seemed to me to be happy except when engaged in alleviating the
sufferings of us who were sick, and she watched over us with all the
tenderness and love of a mother. Many of the sick men called her by that
endeared name, and we all seemed to be her children.
"Even in the gloomiest cabins and to the most disheartened of the
fever-stricken, her presence seemed to bring sunshine. Her face always wore
a smile so sweet that I forgot my pain when I gazed upon her. Her voice
rings in my ears even now. It was peculiarly soft and musical, and I never
heard her speak but I recalled those lines of the great dramatist, 'Her
voice was ever low, an excellent thing in woman.' Every sufferer waited to
hear her speak and seemed to hang upon her accents. Her words were few, but
so kind that we all felt that with such a friend to help us we could not
long be sick.
"She was entirely forgetful of herself, so much did the poor invalids dwell
in her thoughts.
"The storms of autumn raged with frightful violence throughout that gorge,
and yet I have known her, while the wind was howling and the rain pouring,
to go round three times in one night to the bedsides of those whose lives
were hanging by a thread. Once I recollect after my recovery, going to see
a young man who was very low and seemed to have life only while Mrs.
Maurice bent over him. She had visited him early that evening, and had
promised to come and see him again after making her rounds among her other
patients. A fierce snow storm had come up and a strong man could barely
maintain himself before the blast. I found the poor fellow very low. He was
evidently sinking rapidly. He moved feebly and turned away his eyes, which
were fixed upon me as I entered. It was already considerably past the hour
when it was expected she would return, and as I bent to ask him how he was,
he looked into my face with a bright eager gaze, and said in a whisper,
'ask mother to come.' I knew in an instant whom he meant and said I would
go in search of her and conduct her thither through the storm.
"I had only reached the door when she met me. I never shall forget her
appearance as she entered out of the howling storm and stood in that dim
light all radiant with kindness and sympathy, which beamed from her face
and seemed to illumine the room. The sufferer's face brightened and his
frame seemed to have a sudden life breathed into it when he saw her enter.
It seemed to me as if she had a miraculous healing power, for that moment
he began to mend, and in a few weeks was restored to his pristine health."
It was beyond doubt that her presence and gentle words were more potent in
effecting cures than were the medicines which she administered. Those who
recovered and walked out when they saw her approaching, even at a distance,
were wont to remove their hats and stand as she went by gazing at her as if
she was an angel of light.
The scene after the last patient was convalescent, and when she came to
take her departure, was indescribable. All the miners quit work and
gathered in the village; a party was appointed to escort her to the
mountain and the rest formed a long line on each side and stood bareheaded
and some of them weeping as she passed through.
The mounted men accompanied her and her husband and their guide to the top
of the mountain. All of the escort had been her patients and some of them
were still wasted and wan from the fever. When they bade her farewell there
was not a dry eye among them, and long after she had left them they could
have been seen gazing after the noble matron who had visited and comforted
them in their grievous sickness and pain.
Life in the Rocky Mountains before the great transcontinental line was
built was remarkable for concentrating in itself the extremest forms of
almost every peril, hardship, and privation which is incident to the
frontier. Even at the present day and with the increased facilities for
reaching the Atlantic and Pacific coast by that single railroad, the
greater part of the region far north and far south of that line of travel
is still isolated from the world by vast distances and great natural
obstacles to communication between the different points of settlement.
So much the more valuable and stronger therefore upon that field is the
emotional force of good women. Such there were and are scattered through
that rocky wilderness whose ministrations, in many a lonely cabin, and with
many a wayfaring band, are like those of the angel who visited the prophet
of old when he dwelt "in a desert apart".
An incident is told of a party of emigrants, who were journeying through
Idaho that powerfully illustrates this idea.
There were five in the party, viz. James Peterson, an aged man, his two
daughters, his son, and his son's wife.
While pursuing their toilsome and devious course through the gorges and up
and down the steeps, a friendly Indian whom they met informed them that a
few miles from the route they were following, a body of men were starving
in an almost inaccessible ravine where they had been prospecting for gold.
Mr. Peterson and his son, although they pitied the unfortunate gold
hunters, were disinclined to turn from their course, judging that the
difficulties of reaching them, and of conveying the necessary stores over
the rocks and across the rapid torrents were such that they would render
the attempt wholly impracticable.
The two daughters, as well as the wife of young Peterson, refused to listen
to the cold dictates of prudence which controlled Mr. Peterson and his son:
they saw in imagination only the wretched starving men, and their hearts
yearned to relieve them.
Turning a deaf ear to the arguments and persuasions of the elder and
younger Peterson, they urged in eloquent and pleading tones that they might
be allowed to follow the impulses of kindness and pity and visit the
objects of their compassion. The father could stay with the team and the
brother and husband could accompany them under the guidance of the Indian,
on their errand of mercy.
Their prayers and persuasions at last prevailed over the objections which
were offered. Selecting the most concentrated and nourishing food, which
their store of provisions embraced, young Peterson and the Indian loaded
themselves with all that they could carry, the three women, who were strong
and active, also bearing a portion of the supplies. The party, after a most
difficult and toilsome march on foot, succeeded in reaching the top of the
mountain, from which they could look down into the ravine upon the spot
where the unfortunate men were encamped. They could see no sign of life,
and feared they had come too late.
As they neared the place, picking their way down precipices where a single
misstep would have been death, one of the women waved her handkerchief and
the men shouted at the top of their voices. No response came back except
the echoes which reverberated from the wall of the mountain opposite. The
rays of the setting sun fell on seven human forms stretched on the ground.
One of these forms at length raised itself to a sitting posture and gazed
with a dazed look at the rescuers hastening towards them. The rest had
given up all hope and lain down to die.
A spoonful of stimulant was immediately administered to each of the seven
sufferers, and kindling a fire, the women quickly prepared broth with the
dried meat which they had brought. The starving men were in a light-headed
condition, induced by long fasting, and could scarcely comprehend that they
were saved. "Who be those, Jim, walking round that fire; not women?" said
one of the men. "No, Pete," was the reply, "them's angels; didn't you hear
'em sing to us a spell ago?" The kind words with which the three women had
sought to recall the wretched wayfarers to life and hope might well have
been mistaken for an angel's song. One of the men afterwards said he
dreamed he was in heaven, and when his eyes were opened by the sound of
those sweet voices, and he saw those noble girls, he knew his dream had
Another said that those voices brought him back to life and hope, more than
all the food and stimulants.
For a week these angels of mercy nursed and fed the starving men, the
Indian meanwhile having shot a mountain goat, which increased their
supplies, and at the end of that period the men were sufficiently recruited
to start, in company with their preservers, for the camp, where Mr.
Peterson was awaiting the return of his daughters, of whose safety he had
been already informed by the Indian.
When the rescued men came to bid them farewell, they brought a bag
containing a hundred pounds weight of gold dust, the price for which would
have been their lives, but for those devoted women, and begged them to
accept it, not as a reward, but as a token of their gratitude. The girls
refused to take the gift, believing that the adventurous miners needed it,
and that they had been amply rewarded by the reflection that they had saved
The parting, on both sides, was tearful, the rough miners being more
affected than even the women. Each party pursued its separate course, the
one towards Oregon, the other towards Utah; but after the Petersons had
reached the spot where they encamped that night, they discovered the bag of
gold, which the miners had secretly deposited in the wagon. The treasure
thus forced upon them was divided between the Miss Petersons and their
sister-in-law. Bright and pure as that metal was, it was incomparably less
lustrous than the deeds which it rewarded, and infinitely less pure than
the motives which prompted them.
Finely has a poet of our own time celebrated the wondrous power of those
words of cheer and comfort which woman utters so often to the unfortunate.
O! ever when the happy laugh is dumb,
All the joy gone, and all the sorrow come,
When loss, despair, and soul-distracting pain,
Wring the sad heart and rack the throbbing brain,
The only hope—the only comfort heard—
Comes in the music of a woman's word.
Like beacon-bell on some wild island shore,
Silverly ringing through the tempest's roar,
Whose sound borne shipward through the ocean gloom
Tells of the path and turns her from her doom.
Acting within their own homes, who can sum up the entire amount of good
which the frontier wife, mother, sister, and daughter have accomplished in
their capacities as emotional and sympathetic beings? How many fevered
brows have they cooled, how many gloomy moods have they illumined, how many
wavering hearts have they stayed and confirmed?
This service of the heart is rendered so freely and so often that it ceases
to attract the attention it merits. Like the vital air and sunshine, it is
so free and spontaneous that one rarely pauses to thank God for it. The
outflow of sympathy, the kind word or act, and all the long sacrifice of
woman's days pass too often without a thought, or a word, from those who
perhaps might droop and die without them.
England has its Westminster Abbey, beneath whose clustered arches
statesmen, philanthropists, warriors, and kings repose in a mausoleum,
whither men repair to gaze at the monumental bust, the storied urn, and
proud epitaph; but where is the mausoleum which preserves the names and
virtues of those gentle, unobtrusive women—the heroines and comforters of
the frontier home? In the East, the simple slabs of stone which record
their names have crumbled into the dust of the churchyard. In the far West,
they sleep on the prairie and mountain slope, with scarcely a memorial to
mark the spot.
Nowhere more strongly are the manifestations of heart-power shown than
among the women of our remote border. Speaking of them, one who long lived
in that region says, "If you are sick, there is nothing which sympathy and
care can devise or perform, which is not done for you. No sister ever hung
over the throbbing brain, or fluttering pulse, of a brother with more
tenderness and fidelity. This is as true of the lady whose hand has only
figured her embroidery or swept her guitar, as of the cottage-girl,
wringing from her laundry the foam of the mountain stream. If I must be
cast, in sickness or destitution, on the care of a stranger, let it be in
California; but let it be before avarice has hardened the heart and made a
god of gold."
What is said of the California wives, mothers, and sisters, may, with equal
force, be applied to woman throughout the whole vast mountain region,
including ten immense states and territories. In the mining districts, on
the wild cattle ranche, in the eyrie, perched, like an eagle's nest, on the
crest of those sky-piercing summits, or on the secluded valley farm,
wherever there is a home to be brightened, a sick bed to be tended, or a
wounded spirit to be healed, there is woman seen as a minister of comfort,
consolation, and joy.
The military posts on the frontier have long had reason to thank the wives
of the soldiers and officers for their kindness, manifested in numberless
One of these ladies was Mrs. R———, who accompanied her husband to his
post on the Rio Grande, in 1856.
Here she remained with him for more than three years, till that grand
mustering of all the powers of the Republic to the long contested
battle-grounds along the Potomac. Their life on the Mexican frontier was
full of interest, novelty, and adventure. The First Artillery was often
engaged in repulsing the irregular and roving bands of Cortinas, who rode
over the narrow boundary river in frequent raids and stealing expeditions
into Texas. When in camp, Mrs. Ricketts greatly endeared herself to the men
in her husband's company by constant acts of kindness to the sick, and by
showing a cheerful and lively disposition amid all the hardships and
annoyances of garrison life, at such a distance from home and from the
comforts and refinements of our American civilization.
She was a spirit of mercy as well as good cheer; and many a poor fellow
knew that, if he could but get her ear, his penance in the guard-house for
some violation of the regulations, would be far less severe on account of
her gentle and womanly plea.
She afterwards shared her husband's imprisonment in Richmond. Captain
R——— had been severely wounded and grew rapidly worse. The gloomiest
forebodings pressed like lead upon the brave heart of the devoted wife.
Again the surgeons consulted over his dreadfully swollen leg, and
prescribed amputation; and again it was spared to the entreaties of his
wife, who was certain that his now greatly enfeebled condition would not
survive the shock. Much of the time he lay unconscious, and for weeks his
life depended entirely on the untiring patience and skill with which his
wife soothed down the rudeness of his prison-house, cheering him and other
prisoners who were so fortunate as to be in the room with him, and
alleviating the slow misery that was settling like a pall upon him.
As the pebble which stirs the lake in wider and ever wider circles, so the
genial emotion which begins in the family extends to the neighborhood, and
sometimes embraces the whole human race. Hence arises the philanthropic
kindness of some, and the large-hearted charity that is willing to labor
anywhere and in any manner to relieve the wants of all who are suffering
pain or privation.
In all our wars from the Revolutionary contest to the present time, woman's
work in the army hospitals, and even on the battle-field, as a nurse, has
been a crown to womanhood and a blessing to our civilization and age. Many
a life that had hitherto been marked only by the domestic virtues and the
charities of home, became enlarged and ennobled in this wider sphere of
Wrestling in grim patience with unceasing pain; to lie weak and helpless,
thinking of the loved ones on the far off hillside, or thirsty with
unspeakable longing for one draught of cold water from the spring by the
big rock at the old homestead; to yearn, through long, hot nights, for one
touch of the cool, soft hand of a sister or a wife on the throbbing
temples, the wounded soldier saw with joy unspeakable the coming of these
ministering angels. Then the great gashes would be bathed with cooling
washes, or the grateful draught poured between the thin, chalky lips, or
the painful, inflamed stump would be lifted and a pad of cool, soft lint,
fitted under it. These ministrations carried with, them a moral cheer and
a soothing that was more salutary and healing than medicines and creature
The poor wounded soldier was assured in tones, to whose pleasant and
homelike accents his ear had long been a stranger, that his valor should
not be forgotten, that they too had a son, a brother, a father, or a
husband in the army. After a pallid face and bony fingers were bathed,
sometimes a chapter in the New Testament or a paragraph from the newspapers
would be read in tones low but distinct, in grateful contrast to the hoarse
battle shouts that had been lingering in his ear for weeks.
Then the good lady would act as amanuensis for some poor fellow who had an
armless sleeve, and write down for loving eyes and heavy hearts in some
distant village the same old soldier's story, told a thousand times by a
thousand firesides, but always more charming than any story in the Arabian
Nights,—how, on that great day, he stood with his company on a hillside,
and saw the long line of the enemy come rolling across the valley; how,
when, the cannon opened on them, he could see the rough, ragged gaps
opening in the line; how they closed up and moved on; how this friend fell
on one side, and poor Jimmy ——— on the other; and then he felt a general
crash, and a burning pain, and the musket dropped out of his hand; then the
ambulance and the amputation, and what the surgeon said about his pluck;
and then the weakness, and the pain, and the hunger; and how much better he
was now; and how kind the ladies had been to him.
Such offices as these lift woman above the plane of earthly experience and
place her a little lower than the angels. Only she can fill the measure of
such duties, and only she does fill them.
* * * * *
Among the deities of the Eastern Pantheon, the god representing the
destroyer is embodied under the form of a man, while the preserver is
symbolized under the form of a woman. This is an adaptation in Polytheism
of a great and true idea. Woman is a preserver. Her's is the conservative
influence of society. It is from man that the destructive forces that shake
the social organization emanate. He wars on his kind and the earth shakes
under the tread of his armies. He organizes those mighty revolutionary
movements which pull down the fabric of states. He is restless, aggressive,
warlike. But it is woman's province to keep. Her mission is peace.
A party of soldiers passing through the western wilds, sees in the distance
a body of horsemen approaching. Cocking their rifles and putting themselves
in a defensive attitude, they prepare for battle. But when they see that
there are women among the riders who are galloping towards them, they relax
their line and restore their rifles to their shoulders. They know there
will be no battle, for woman's presence means peace.
Woman is the guardian of our race. In the household she is saving; in the
family she is protecting, and everywhere her influence is that which keeps.
It is this characteristic that makes her presence on the frontier so
essential to a successful prosecution of true pioneer enterprises. The
man's work is one of destruction and subjugation. He must level the forest,
break the soil, and fight all the forces that oppose him in his progress.
Woman guards the health and life of the household, hoards the stores of the
family, and economizes the surplus strength of her husband, father, or son.
We are speaking now of the sex as it is seen in a new country and in remote
settlements. In crowded cities, amid a superabundant wealth, and an idle
and luxurious mode of life, we see too often the types of selfish,
frivolous, and conventional females such as are hardly known on the border.
But even in these, populous districts the same spirit is not unfrequently
shown, with important results, in respect to the accumulation of great
Some forty years since, a capitalist who now counts his fortune by the tens
of millions, informed his wife that if he was only in possession of five
thousand dollars, he could derive great gains from a business into which he
designed to enter. To his astonishment she immediately brought him a bank
book showing a balance of five thousand dollars, the savings of many years,
and told him to use it as he thought best. Those hoardings judiciously
invested laid the foundation of one of the largest properties owned by a
single man upon this continent.
As a conserving agency, the spirit and influence of woman is of course most
strongly exerted within the circle of her own family. Here she knits the
ties that binds that circle together, and gathers and holds the material
and moral resources which make the household what it is. When disaster
comes, it is her study to prevent disintegration and keep the home
uninjured and unbroken.
While a family were flying from a ferocious band of tories during the
Revolution, in the confusion, one of the children was left behind. It was
the eldest daughter who first discovered the fact, and only she dared to
return and save her little brother from their blood-thirsty enemies. It was
dark and rainy, and imminent danger would attend the effort to rescue the
lad. But the brave girl hastened back; reached the house still in
possession of the British; begged the sentinel to let her enter; and though
repeatedly repulsed doubled the earnestness of her entreaties, and finally
gained admittance. She found the child in his chamber, hastened down stairs
and passing the sentry, fled with the shot whizzing past her head, and with
the child soon joined the rest of the family.
When deprived of her natural protector and left the sole guardian of her
children she becomes a prodigy of watchful care.
Some years since, one of the small islands on our coast was inhabited by a
single poor family. The father was taken suddenly ill. There was no
physician. The wife, on whom every labor for the household devolved, was
sleepless in care and tenderness by the bedside of her suffering husband.
Every remedy in her power to procure was administered, but the disease was
acute, and he died.
Seven young children mourned around the lifeless corpse. They were the sole
beings upon that desolate spot. Did the mother indulge the grief of her
spirit, and sit down in despair? No! she entered upon the arduous and
sacred duties of her station. She felt that there was no hand to assist her
in burying her dead. Providing, as far as possible, for the comfort of her
little ones, she put her babe into the arms of the oldest, and charged the
two next in age to watch the corpse of their father. She unmoored her
husband's fishing boat, which, but two days before, he had guided over the
seas to obtain food for his family. She dared not yield to those tender
recollections which might have unnerved her arm. The nearest island was at
the distance of three miles. Strong winds lashed the waters to foam. Over
the loud billows, that wearied and sorrowful woman rowed, and was
preserved. She reached the next island, and obtained the necessary aid.
With such energy did her duty to her desolate babes inspire her, that the
voyage which, depended upon her individual effort was performed in a
shorter time than the returning one, when the oars were managed by two men,
who went to assist in the last offices to the dead.
But female influence in the way of conservation, is not bounded by the
narrow limits of home, family, and kindred. It is also seen on a wider
field and in the preservation of other interests. The property, health, and
life of strangers often become the object of woman's careful guardianship.
Nearly thirty years since a heavily freighted vessel set sail from an
English port bound for the Pacific coast. After a voyage of more than three
months it reached the Sandwich Islands, and after remaining there a week,
sailed in the direction of Oregon and British Columbia.
When two days out from Honolulu, the captain and mate were taken down with
fever, which not only confined them, to their berths, but by its delirium
incapacitated them from giving instructions respecting the navigation of
the vessel. The third officer, upon whom the command devolved, was shortly
afterwards washed overboard and lost in a gale. The rest of the crew were
of the most common and ignorant class of sailors, not even knowing how to
read and write. The heavens, overspread with clouds which obscured both the
sun and the stars, was a sealed book to the man at the wheel, and the good
ship, at the mercy of the winds and waves, was drifting they knew not
At this juncture the wife of the captain stepped to the front, and boldly
assumed the command. She had been reared on Cape Cod, and was a woman of
uncommon intelligence and strength of character. Her husband, in the early
stages of his illness, had thoughtfully instructed her in the rudiments of
navigation, and foreseeing that such knowledge might be the means of
enabling her to steer the ship safely to port, she diligently employed
every moment that she could spare from the necessary attendance on the sick
men, in studying the manual of navigation. She soon learned how to
calculate latitude and longitude. When the third officer was washed
overboard she knew that all must then depend upon her, and at once put
herself in communication with the steersman, and instructed him as to their
true position. The men all recognized the value of her knowledge, and
obeyed her as if she had been their chief from the outset. The correctness
of her calculations was soon proved, and such was her firmness and kindness
while in command, that the sailors came to regard her as a superior being
who had been sent from heaven to help them out of their dangers. The clouds
at length cleared away, the wind subsided, and after a voyage of
twenty-five days, the ship made the mouth of the Columbia River. Meanwhile
by diligent nursing she had also contributed to save the lives of her
husband and his second officer. But for her knowledge and firmness it was
acknowledged by all that the ship would have been lost; and a large salvage
was allowed her by the owners as a reward for her energy and intelligence
in saving the vessel and its valuable cargo.
Another of these guardians on the deep was Mrs. Spalding, of Georgia. She
was one of those patriot women of the Revolution of whom we have already
spoken. The part she bore in that struggle, and the anxieties to which she
had been necessarily subjected, so impaired her health that some years
after the termination of the war an ocean voyage and a European climate was
prescribed for her restoration.
While crossing the Atlantic a large ship painted black, carrying twelve
guns, was seen to windward running across their course. She was evidently
either a privateer or a pirate. As there was no hope of out-sailing her, it
was judged best to boldly keep the vessel on her course, trusting that its
size and appearance might deter the strange craft from attacking it.
Mr. Spalding, realizing the danger of their situation, and not daring to
trust himself with an interview till the crisis was past, requested the
captain to go below and do what he could for the security of his family.
The captain on visiting the cabin, found that Mrs. Spalding had placed her
daughter-in-law and the other inmates of the cabin, for safety, in the two
state-rooms, filling the berths with the cots and bedding from the outer
cabin. She had then taken her station beside the scuttle, which led from
the outer cabin to the magazine, with two buckets of water. Having noticed
that the two cabin-boys were heedless, she had determined herself to keep
watch over the magazine. She did so till the danger was past. The captain
took in his light sails, hoisted his boarding nettings, opened his ports,
and stood on upon his course. The privateer waited till the ship was within
a mile, then fired a gun to windward, and stood on her way. This ruse
preserved the ship.
America, like England, has had her Grace Darlings, whose lives have been
devoted to the rescue of drowning sailors. Such a life was that of Kate
Moore, who some years since resided on a secluded island in the Sound.
Disasters frequently occur to vessels which are driven round Montauk Point,
and sometimes in the Sound when they are homeward bound; and at such times
she was always on the alert. She had so thoroughly cultivated the sense of
hearing, that she could distinguish amid the howling storm the shrieks of
the drowning mariners, and thus direct a boat, which she had learned to
manage most dexterously, in the darkest night, to the spot where a fellow
mortal was perishing. Though well educated and refined, she possessed none
of the affected delicacy which characterizes too many town-bred misses,
but, adapting herself to the peculiar exigencies of her father's humble yet
honorable calling, she was ever ready to lend a helping hand, and shrank
from no danger if duty pointed that way. In the gloom and terror of the
stormy night, amid perils at all hours of the day and all seasons of the
year, she launched her barque on the threatening waves, and assisted her
aged and feeble father in saving the lives of twenty-one persons during the
last fifteen years. Such conduct, like that of Grace Darling, to whom Kate
Moore has been justly compared, needs no comment; it stamps its moral at
once and indelibly upon the heart of every reader.
That great land ocean which stretches southwestward from Fort Leavenworth
on the Missouri, to the fountains of the great rivers of Texas, has its
perils to be guarded against as well as the stormy Atlantic. The voyagers
over that expanse, as well as the mariners on the ocean, have not seldom
owed their safety to the watchfulness of the prairie woman, who possesses,
in common with her more cultivated and conventional sisters, a keen insight
into character. This enables her to take early note of danger arising from
the agency of bad men, and avoid it.
In 1858, a gentleman, accompanied by a Creek Indian as a guide, while
escorting his sister to her husband, who was stationed at Fort Wayne, in
the Indian Territory, near the southwest corner of Missouri, lost the
trail, and the party found themselves, at nightfall, in an immense plain,
which showed no signs of any habitation. Riding southward in the darkness,
they saw, at last, a light twinkling in the distance, and, directing their
course toward it, they discovered that it proceeded from the window of a
lonely cabin. Knocking at the door, a man of singularly repulsive
appearance responded to the summons—invited them in. Three rough-looking
characters were sitting around the fire. The hospitalities of the cabin
were bargained for, the horses and Indian being quartered in a shed, while
the gentleman and his sister were provided with shakedowns in the two
partitions of the loft. The only inmates of the house besides the four whom
we have mentioned was a girl some fifteen years of age, the daughter of one
of the men. The lady, who was very much fatigued, was waited upon by this
girl, who moved about as if she was in a dream. She was very pale, and had
a look as if she was repressing some great fear, or was burdened by some
When she accompanied the lady to her sleeping apartment, she whispered to
her hurriedly that she wished to speak to her brother, but begged her to
call him without making any noise, as their lives depended upon their
preserving silence. The lady, though astonished and terrified at such a
revelation at that hour and place, checked the exclamation which rose to
her lips, and, lifting the partition of cotton cloth which hung between the
apartments, in a low tone asked her brother to come and hear what the girl
had to say.
Her information was of a terrible character. They were, she said, in a den
of murderers. She knew not how they could escape, unless by a miracle. It
was the intention of the assassins, she believed, to murder and rob the
whole party. Then, telling them to keep awake and be on their guard, she
glided down to the room below. The brother and sister, listening sharply
for a few minutes, heard the girl say in a loud tone, as if she intended
the guests should hear her, that she was going out to the shed to look for
her ear-ring, which she believed she had dropped there. They surmised she
was going to put the Indian on his guard.
The gentleman had a pair of revolvers, and resolved to sell his life
dearly, should he be attacked. Peering down into the room below, he saw, by
the dim light, the ruffians making preparations for bloody work. Axes,
knives, pistols, and guns had been brought out, and, in low whispers, the
miscreants were evidently discussing the plan of attack. Sometime after
midnight two of the men stole out of the door, with the obvious intention
of killing the Indian, as the first act in the bloody drama. For a few
minutes after their disappearance all was still, and then the silence was
broken by two pistols shots in quick succession, followed by a triumphant
war-whoop, which served to tell the story. The Indian, who was also armed
with a revolver, must have shot his two assailants. The gentleman fired
down the hatchway of the loft, killing one of the villains as he was
running out of the door. The other, after shouting loudly for his partners
in murder, took to his heels and fled away.
It appeared that the Indian guide, having been notified of his danger by
the girl, rose from his bed and ensconced himself behind the shed. When the
two men came out to attack him, he shot them both dead, and then waited,
expecting that the others would have come out and furnished him with a new
The girl came out of her hiding place, whither she had run on hearing the
shots, and looked sharply into the faces of the three dead ruffians, and
finding that her father was not among them, expressed her joy that her
unworthy parent had escaped the fate he richly deserved.
She told her story to the gentleman and lady while they were standing on
guard and waiting for the morning to dawn. It appeared that she had been
brought to the den a few days before by her father, and had become knowing
to a murder which he and his companions had committed. Her mother, a pious
woman, had instructed her daughter in the principles of Christianity, and
had checked the evil propensities of her husband as long as she lived, but
after her death, which had taken place shortly before the events we have
been describing, all constraint had been removed from the evil propensities
of the misguided man, and he joined the murderous gang who had just met
The natural goodness of the young girl's nature, fostered by the teachings
of her guardian mother, thus exerted itself to save three lives from the
She gladly accompanied the lady on her route the following morning, and
ever remained her attached protegé.
Montana is one of the newest and wildest of our territories. Its position
so far to the north and the peculiarly rugged face of the country, make it
the fitting abode for the genius of the storms. Gathering their battalions
the tempests sweep the summits and whirling round the flanks of the
mountains, roar through the deep, lonely gorges with a sound louder than
the ocean surges in a hurricane. The snows fill the ravines in drifts one
hundred feet in depth, and such are the rigors of winter that the women who
live in the fur-trading posts on that section of our northern border, are
often carried across the mountains into Oregon or Washington territory, to
shield them from the severities of the inclement season.
Late in the fall of 1868, a party consisting of thirty soldiers, while
faring on through the mountains of that territory, were overtaken by one of
these fearful snowstorms. The wind blew from the north directly in their
faces, and the snow was soon piled in drifts which put a thorough embargo
upon their further progress. Selecting the fittest place that could be
found they pitched their tents on the snow, but hardly had they fastened
the tent ropes when a blast lifted the tents in a moment, and whirled them
into the sky. After a night of great suffering they found in the morning
that all their mules were missing. They had probably strayed or been driven
by the fury of the blast into a deep ravine south of the camp, where they
had been buried beneath the enormous drifts.
The storm raged and the snow fell nearly all day. The rations were all
gone, and progress against the wind and through the drifts was impossible.
Another night of such bitter cold and exposure would in all probability be
They shouted in unison, but their shouts were drowned in the shrieks of the
tempest. Towards night the storm lulled and again they shouted, but no
sound came back but the sigh of the blast. Help! help! they cried. Unhappy
men, could help come to them except from on high! What was left to them but
to wind their martial cloaks around them and die like soldiers in the path
But what God-sent messenger is this coming through the drifts to meet them?
Not a woman! Yes, a poor, weak woman has heard their despairing cry and has
hastened to succor them. Drenched and shivering with the storm she told
them to follow her, and conducted them to a recess in the crags, where
beneath an overhanging ledge and between projecting cliffs, a spacious
shelter was afforded them. They crowded in and warmed their numbed limbs
before a great fire, while their preserver brought out her stores of food
for the wayfarers.
But how could a woman be there in the heart of the mountains in the wintry
weather, with only the storm to speak to her?
Her husband was a miner and she a brave and self-reliant woman. He had left
her two weeks before to carry his treasure of gold dust to the nearest
settlement She was all alone! Alone in that rock-encompassed cabin
in the realms of desolation, and still the heroine-guardian who had
snatched thirty fellow beings from the jaws of death.
Solitude is the theatre where untold thousands of devoted women—the brave,
the good, the loving—for ages past have acted their unviewed and
unrecorded dramas in the great battle of frontier life. Warriors and
statesmen have their need of praise, and crowds surround them to throw the
wreath of laurel or of bay upon their fainting brows, or to follow their
plumed hearse to the mausoleum which a grateful people has raised to their
"Yet it may be a higher courage dwells
In one meek heart which braves an adverse fate,
Than his whose ardent soul indignant swells
Warmed by the fight or cheered through high debate,
The soldier dies surrounded, could he live
Alone to suffer and alone to strive?"
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