The Homesman

The Homesman educated me about some of the hardships specific to women who settled the American Mid-West in the 1850’s. The land was cruel; the loneliness brutal. Families settled on land far from one another with very little community support established. As much as Glendon Swarthout captured how they tried to look out for one another as best they could, for the most part, each family were on their own.

The story centers on a small group of families where the woman of the household has gone mad. Each story that accompanies the madness is so sad and personal, but the hard reality is that the women cannot stay on their farms with no one to care for them and the men needing to care for the land. They need to be sent back east to families or possible sanitariums to care for them. While many of the women suffered things that women elsewhere in the world have suffered, the madness is intensified by their isolation and desperate circumstances.

Mary Bee Cuddy is an independent woman who owns and tends her own settlement. Due to one of the women’s unsympathetic husband, Mary Bee ends up being the one who collects the women with the intent of heading back east alone. After coming across a stranger in dire circumstances, she ends up partnering up with him, a claim jumper named George Briggs, who is only out for the money that is promised him.

Swarthout’s detail of what life was like on the American Mid-West is well researched and full of personal stories. I don’t doubt any of what he says, and it amazes me that America somehow spread beyond this period of time and this land. Its interesting that Swarthout also included that there was importance placed on keeping the women’s stories from reaching any women westward bound, lest they turn around and head back east.

This was an interesting and nice read. I would recommend to anyone who’s interested in learning about how women lived in the American Mid-West during the great American expansion west.

Read August 2014


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