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Quilting the Rocky Road

Christina Walkley looks at how the triumphs and tragedies of pioneer women on the trail West can be traced in their patchwork quilts.

In the Spring of 1846, the Apple- gate wagon train left Missouri with high hopes, bound for the promised land of Oregon. Other par- ties had gone before them, in 1843, 1844 and 1845, so these emigrants felt that the way had already been cleared, and they set out full of confidence – a confidence which actually was totally misplaced. Among the travellers were two teenage girls who became good friends in the course of the eight month journey. Elizabeth Currier was fourteen. Her happy childhood had been cut short the previous year when her parents had died within months of each other, and she and her older brother Jacob were travelling with their sister Sarah and Sarah's husband. Lucy Ann Henderson was a year or so younger; her family unit comprised her father, her pregnant mother and three younger children.

Elizabeth and Lucy Ann were deemed old enough to share in the hard work of the expedition: years later Elizabeth recalled 'driving cattle all day, and milking at night when it was so cold you had to warm your hands in the cow's flank'. But there was a lot of fun as well. Young unmarried girls did not have the crushing responsibilities of their mothers, and they took advantage of the lack of parental supervision to romp around in a way that would not have been tolerated in a settled community, going off pony-riding for fun, and having sing-songs and dances with the young men. Then tragedy struck.

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