Wild Women of the West: Elinore Pruitt


elinore pruitt cowgirl

Elinore Pruitt

Elinore Pruitt’s thick, gloved hands unfolded a newspaper advertisement and followed the words written across the page with her index finger.  “Housekeeper-cook wanted for respected land owner.  Offering a good permanent home for the right party.”  The announcement, placed in a Colorado newspaper in April 1909, was submitted by Wyoming sheep rancher H. Clyde Stewart.  Elinore’s soft eyes studied the name of the rancher for a moment.  She said his name out loud a few times and decided it was a good strong name.  A dependable name, she told herself as she refolded the advertisement and slid it into her pocket.

She smoothed out the slight wrinkles in her blue gingham dress and shifted in her seat.  She glanced nervously at the mantle clock in Boulder’s Sunshine Mission, where she and her two-year-old daughter, Jerrine lived.  Clyde would soon be there to interview her.  If all went well, she would be on her way to Wyoming within the week.  

Since the death of her husband Amelie Rupert in 1905, she had dreamed of going west and becoming a homesteader.  Responding to Clyde’s proposition was her way of taking control of her destiny.    

Clyde Stewart entered the mission at the exact time they were scheduled to meet.  He was a proud, confident man of Scottish descent who Elinore later bragged “stood inspection admirably.”  They were quite impressed with one another.  Elinore thought his demeanor and accent were quite charming.  Clyde, ten years Elinore’s senior, found her to be a “lovely lass with a delightful sense of humor.”  After a brief question-and-answer period, Elinore was invited to join Clyde on his trip to Burnt Fork, Wyoming.   

Elinore Pruitt’s life began in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1876.  The oldest in a family of nine, she assumed responsibility for her siblings after her parents died.  At fourteen, she was a high school student, caretaker of her brothers, and a part-time employee with the Transcontinental Railroad.  She was very well-read and enjoyed writing.  At the age of twenty-two, she married a man who gave her the chance to capitalize on her talent.  He encouraged her writing and persuaded her to regularly contribute articles and short stories to the Kansas City Star.  Four years after she married the inspiring Amelie Rupert, and only a few months after the birth of their daughter, he was killed in a train accident.    

With the notion of some day owning her own plot of land, she drifted west, taking jobs along the way as a cook and laundress.  In Denver, Colorado, Elinore befriended Ida Coney and for a time worked preparing the aristocratic woman’s meals and tending to her home.  Although she and her young daughter were fond of Mrs. Coney, Elinore was not content to stay in Denver.  While in town one day, loading up on supplies, she overheard two men discussing land in Wyoming available for homesteading.  The conversation gave her incentive to continue pursuing her life’s ambition, and in February of 1909, she wrote in her journal, “Nothing but the mountains, the pines, and the clean, fresh air seemed worthwhile . . . I want a homestead.  One under my own name.”

Elinore began at once making plans to fulfill her dream.  The pastor of her church discouraged her from making the journey to Wyoming alone.  He persuaded her to answer Clyde’s ad, arguing the need to align herself with someone who already knew the territory and could give her sound advice.  It was a sensible request and she complied.  

Elinore, Jerrine, and Clyde arrived in Wyoming in April of 1909.  It took three days traveling by train and stage to reach their destination.  The stage ride over rough terrain was uncomfortable and the road leading into Burnt Fork was covered in melting snow and mud.  As soon as Elinore and her daughter were settled in at the Stewart ranch, she sat down to write Mrs. Coney to assure her of their safety.

“At last we arrived, and everything is just lovely for me.  I have a very, very comfortable situation and Mr. Stewart is absolutely no trouble, for as soon as he has his meals he retires to his room and plays on his bagpipes – only he calls it his ‘bugpeep.’ “. . . It is wonderful here.  There is a saddle horse especially for me and a little shotgun with which I am to kill sage chickens.  We are between two trout streams, so you can think of me as being happy when the snow is through melting and the water gets clear . . . Jerrine is making good use of all the good things we are having.  She rides the pony to water every day.  

“I have not filed on my land yet because the snow is fifteen feet deep on it, and I think I would rather see what I am getting, so will wait until summer.  They have just three seasons here, winter and July and August.  We are to plant our garden the last of May.  When it is so I can get around I will see about land and find out all I can and tell you.”

Elinore Pruitt Rupert – April 18, 1909

In May 1909, Elinore laid claim to a homestead, filing on land adjoining Clyde’s.  The two worked their plots, mowing and stacking hay, planting gardens, and tending to the livestock.  When she wasn’t busy managing the farm and cooking, she and Jerrine would saddle a pony and ride across the hills surrounding the property.  Mother and daughter followed renegade streams into the mountains, chased clouds in the big sky, and basked in the glorious colors and beautiful sunsets.  Elinore had never known such happiness.  

“Any woman who can stand her own company, can see the beauty of the sunset, loves growing things, and is willing to put in as much time at careful labor as she does over the washtub, will certainly succeed; will have independence, plenty to eat all the time, and a home of her own in the end.”

Elinore Pruitt Rupert – January 23, 1913

Within six weeks of her stay at Clyde’s, the two had fallen in love and married.  She did not regret the short engagement or the hasty wedding.  The demands of caring for the ranch necessitated the quick nuptials.  As she wrote in a 1912 letter to Ida Coney, “Between planting the oats and other work that must be done early . . .Wyoming ranchers can scarcely take time even to be married in the springtime.”  In that same letter, written two years after the couple had married, Elinore shared the events leading up to her wedding.

“I have often wished I might tell you all about my Clyde, but have not because of two things.  One is I could not even begin without telling you what a good man he is, and I didn’t want you to think I could do nothing but brag.  The other reason is the haste I married in . . The license was sent for by mail, and as soon as it came Mr. Stewart saddled Chub and went down to the house of Mr. Pearson, the justice of the peace and a friend of long standing.  I had never met any of the family and naturally rather dreaded to have them come, but Mr. Stewart was firm in wanting to be married at home, so he told Mr. Pearson he wanted him and his family to come up the following Wednesday and serve papers on the ‘wooman i’ the hoose.’  They were astonished, of course, but being such good friends they promised him all the assistance they could render.  They are quite the dearest, most interesting family!  I have since learned to love them as my own.

“Well there was no time to make wedding clothes, so I had to ‘do up’ what I did have.  Isn’t it queer how sometimes, do what you can, work will keep getting in the way until you can’t get anything done?  That is how it was with me those few days before the wedding; so much so that when Wednesday dawned everything was topsy-turvy and I had a very strong desire to run away.  But I always did hate a ‘piker,’ so I stood pat.  Well, I had most of the dinner cooked, but it kept me hustling to get the house into anything like decent order before the old dog barked, and I knew my moments of liberty were limited.  It was blowing a perfect hurricane and snowing like midwinter.  I had bought a beautiful pair of shoes to wear on that day, but my vanity had squeezed my feet a little, so while I was so busy at work I had kept on a worn old pair, intending to put on the new ones later; but when the Pearsons drove up all I thought about was getting them into the house where there was fire, so I forgot all about the old shoes and the apron I wore.

“I had only been here six weeks then, and was a stranger.  That is why I had no one to help me and was so confused and hurried.  As soon as the newcomers were warm, Mr. Stewart told me I had better come over by him and stand up.  It was a large room I had to cross, and how I did it before all those strange eyes I never knew.  All I can remember very distinctly is hearing Mr. Stewart saying, ‘I will,’ and myself chiming in that I would, too.  Happening to glance down, I saw that I had forgotten to take off my apron or my old shoes, but just then Mr. Pearson pronounced us man and wife, and as I had dinner to serve right away I had no time to worry over my odd toilet.”

Elinore Pruitt Stewart – December 2, 1912

According to Elinore’s letters to Ida, the Stewarts lived a quiet, but idyllic life in their home among the blue mountains.  Elinore wrote her friend that when she thought of all she had to be thankful for, she could scarcely crowd her joy into one short life.  

The Stewarts knew tragedy as well as joy, however, and Elinore held the family together through those difficult times with unwavering courage.  Clyde and Elinore’s first son was born a year after they were married and died of erysipelas (an acute disease of the skin) a few months later.  Elinore’s letter to Ida reflected the grace with which she accepted the hardship.  

“I held him in my arms till the last agony was over.  Then I dressed the beautiful little body for the grave.  Clyde is a carpenter; so I wanted him to make the little coffin.  He did it every bit, and I lined and padded it, trimmed and covered it.  Not that we couldn’t afford to buy one or that our neighbors were not all that was kind and willing; but because it was a sad pleasure to do everything for our little first-born ourselves.

“As there had been no physician to help, so there was no minister to comfort, and I could not bear to let our baby leave the world without leaving any message to a community that sadly needed it.  His little message to us had been love, so I selected a chapter from John and we had a funeral service, at which all our neighbors for thirty miles around were present.  So you see, our union is sealed by love and welded by a great sorrow.”

Elinore Pruitt Stewart – December 2, 1912

Elinore gave Clyde three more sons and all grew to be fine men.  The Stewarts were married for twenty-four years.  Throughout the first four years of their marriage, Elinore corresponded with Ida Coney, sharing with her the adventures of a woman homesteader.  Those letters were later bound in a book and published in 1913, entitled Letters of a Woman Homesteader.  

In 1926, Elinore suffered a serious injury while she was out stacking hay.  A covey of quail flew in front of the horse-drawn mower she was driving.  The horses spooked and bolted, in the process tossing her in front of the machine.  She never fully recovered from the accident and subsequently died in 1933.  She was fifty-seven years old.   

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