Dozens, possibly hundreds, of women deserve to be remembered in our Cody area history.
My research has been mostly limited to early women arrivals to the Wapiti Valley where names like Mary Frost, Peggy Richard, Ethel Montgomery, Emma Kelly, Maude Legg and Cack McClellan still trigger stories from their descendants and those of their once neighbors.
Most such women were deeply involved in keeping their husband- or father-owned ranches and businesses going. They variously rode fence lines, herded at roundups, drove wagons and buggies, moved irrigation dams, doctored animals and humans, shot game for the table, and whatever else came their way. In addition, they bore and raised their children and, sometimes, home-schooled them.
Let me give you just one example of a woman who did it all. Nancy Ward Frost made a home on virgin prairie land in northern Minnesota after the Civil War. She raised a family there before she became pregnant again and before her husband decided to relocate. As if life weren’t hard enough, Nancy loaded up as much as she could of their possessions and set out with wagons and livestock, toddler and teenagers.
Like thousands of women before her, Nancy endured with grace, walking and riding west, camping, cooking, being soaked to the skin by rain and frozen by snow, suffering the thousand cuts – both small and large – that accompanied pioneer life. Also like many other women, she kept a diary, recording her travels.
The farther Nancy traveled into land unsettled by whites, the more physically and mentally difficult it became. The odds were against her. The child mortality rate was an estimated one in five that year. Her hands no doubt became chapped, cracked, and ached. Her feet would have been clad in the best but still ill-fitting shoes. They would have developed blisters that broke and bled. Bunions were common as were chilblains and a long, long list of other ailments that have disappeared or that we now treat with a bandage and an aspirin.
In a village called Billings, the Frosts learned of promising land to the south.
Nancy told the story of their encounter with a Crow hunting party. She spoke of their first winter, living rough on the upper South Fork. She gave a vivid account of a “holiday” her husband took them on in Yellowstone and the harrowing experiences of negotiating the mountains. As that summer wound to a close, she could look forward to being the keeper of a stage station on Sage Creek, to serving strangers.
Every job she had to do required effort, like the hours of work needed to keep cook fires going and the skill involved in managing the resulting heat. Water. She had no faucets or spigots. She cut ice, melted snow, and carried heavy, leaky buckets. She made soap and candles, salvaged thread, buttons, scraps...
Think of her and hundreds others like her, women who struggled and ultimately thrived in their adopted Cody Country, laying the foundation for the life we have today.