Book Examines Role Of Pioneer Women


"Nothing against men," begins Jayne Peace, "but everything (written about the West) is about men."

Peace is talking about a brand new book, "A Cultural History of the Pioneer Women of Gila County and Their Descendants," just published by her new publishing company, Git A Rope! Publishing. The 192-page book, which retails for $35, features the stories of 60 women behind the men who settled Gila County.

Collected by the Daughters of the Gila County Pioneers over the past eight years, the stories in the book present the Wild West from a different perspective.

"It's always, like, ‘John Wayne captures the West,'" Peace said. "We wanted to put out a history about the women (pioneers) because so many books, including one I wrote about the history of Gisela (in 1981), although I didn't realize it at the time, are all written from the perspective of the man."

Anna Mae Deming, also a member of the pioneers, concurred.

"It took the women to tame the West," Deming said. "The men couldn't do it alone."

Deming, whose own story is one of the 60 included in this first volume, recalled a colorful anecdote to highlight the book's female perspective.

"We also put my aunt's story in there, Aunt Lillias Goodfellow," Deming said. Goodfellow came to Arizona from Scotland with husband David when they were given the Tonto Natural Bridge by relative David Gowan.

"The first time she saw (the bridge), she turned to Uncle Dave and said, ‘You're taking me into hell and I'll never get out alive,'" Deming said. "She had three little kids and they had to stop at the top of the bridge because there was only a burro trail down ... to a stick-and-mud hut where Uncle Davey Gowan, my father's uncle, lived. It took three years with a pick, shovel and wheelbarrow just to build the road down into the bridge, but that lady turned that place into a beautiful little bit of Scotland."

One of the realities of the lives of pioneer women that amazes Peace is how they were forced by the difficulty of their circumstances to take childbirth in stride.

"I never realized it before, but about every two years they had a baby," she said. "Not only were they traveling out here in wagons and trying to settle things and wait for houses to be built, but they either had a baby in their arms and one tugging at their dress or they were pregnant."

The experience of Sarah "Mammy" Haught, one of the 60 women featured in the first volume, was typical.

"She stopped in the White Mountains to have a baby, and then they went right on," Peace said. "She had a wagon to drive. And yet today we make such a big deal out of childbirth."

While the book is about pioneer women, the roles of the men in their lives are included in their stories. In fact, both Peace and Deming agree that it took the contributions of both sexes to tame the West.

"The men are the adventurers," Peace said. "The women are the ones who plant the little rose bush outside the kitchen door and throw the dishwater on it. They're the ones that make it pretty."

"The men would come here, but the women are the ones who made them stay," Deming added.

The book also includes dozens of photographs, many never before published. One features Deming as a young girl helping Dave Gowan hold up a swan that he shot. Deming remembers the occasion vividly.

"I was so mad at him because he made me hold that wing," Deming said with a laugh. "My mother almost shot him over it."

Any oversights in the first volume were unintentional and will be corrected in future volumes, according to Peace and Deming.

"These first 60 were chosen because we could get the best history and the families were willing (to help us)," Deming said. "We had to ask them for the stories, get the stories, help them re-write them, and get their pictures."

"Since it came out, people have called and said my mother or my grandmother aren't in there," Peace said. "We tell them we never got the picture so we just took what we had."

Volume 2 is already completed, but will not be printed until sufficient revenue is generated from sales of the initial volume. The daughters have collected enough stories so far to do four volumes.

The book is available at Rim Country Museum, Museum of Rim Country Archaeology, Pine Museum and Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce. It can also be obtained by calling Lois Bissett at 474-2949, Dese Muller at 474-2634, Deming at 474-2254, or Peace at 474-0380.

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