cover image Brave Hearted: The Women of the American West

Brave Hearted: The Women of the American West

Katie Hickman. Spiegel & Grau, $32 (400p) ISBN 978-1-954118-17-1

Historian and novelist Hickman (Daughters of Britannia) delivers a painstakingly researched and fluidly written study of the women who helped settle the American West. Drawing on more than 800 letters, diaries, and personal memoirs, Hickman covers the period from 1836, when Presbyterian missionaries Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding became the first white women to attempt the overland journey from Missouri to Oregon, until 1880, after which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the country no longer had a frontier. Along the way, Hickman offers women’s firsthand perspectives on the Indian Wars, the California Gold Rush, the building of the transcontinental railroad, and other milestones. Profile subjects include Marguerite McLoughlin, who oversaw Fort Vancouver, in the far northwest, in the earliest days of the wagon trains; Chinese sex slave Ah Toy, who was trafficked to San Francisco and became one of the city’s “most prominent madams”; and Biddy Mason, an enslaved woman who fought for her freedom in a California court. Throughout, Hickman pays close attention to the violent subjugation of Native Americans, documenting such horrific episodes as the Needle Rock Massacre of the Sinkyone tribe in Northern California from the perspective of women like Sally Bell, who lost most of her family in that slaughter. Full of heartrending accounts of courage and tragedy, this is a vital contribution to the history of America’s frontier. (Oct.)