Anyone who is interested in pioneer history will love Quilts of the Oregon Trail, by Mary Bywater Cross. There is far more than quilt history in this book. The author has integrated the quilts into a broad study of the lives of the women who owned and/or made them. One aspect she discusses is the role women played in getting the work done both on the trail and during the time these pioneer families were settling into to their new locations.
Women did the usual domestic chores, including cooking, mending and washing, just as they had done at home, but they also had typically male tasks they had to carry out. As you read about the many demands on women during thier journey west and in establishing their new home you will admire them all the more.
It was not until they had been settled for a while that women could return to concentrating on their traditional roles. Particularly important to women were their roles of providing a good moral environment and education for their children. Many of the quilters presented in this book were active in groups promoting churches and schools. Quilting together was often a part of these activities.
The information presented with each quilt is fascinating. We learn about the women's lives, their families, and the trials and tribulations involved in the trip west as well as their experiences after arrival. As each quilt maker comes to life through these stories we learn details about her quilt including how and where it was made and what it might have meant to her. Many of these quilts had traveling or nature themes which would have been especially meaningful to pioneers.
Those quilts that were brought on the trail were a comfort in times of fear and grief. We naturally think of disease as being the primary cause of death but it seems that accidents were a significant danger. One author mentions causes of death putting being run over by wagon wheels first, then livestock stampedes, with gun accidents as third.p56 Accidents were no small thing. Death from disease increased as the routes became more crowded and clean water was more difficult to find. As you can imagine, a warm quilt was a great comfort to those who were sick or injured.
© 2007 Judy Anne Johnson Breneman (Do not reproduce any material from this site without permission.)