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Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk across Victorian Americaby Linda Lawrence Hunt
Synopses & Reviews
On Foot to New York
Helga Estby, a thirty-six-year-old Norwegian immigrant, woke early on a mid-June morning in 1896 and slipped on her full-length gray Victorian skirt, simple wool jacket, and new leather shoes. She was eager to leave Boise, Idaho, before 6 a.m. to avoid walking during the scorching midday sun in southern Idaho, a hazard she had failed to consider earlier. Her daughter Clara, an artistic, intelligent, and pretty eighteen year old, helped fill their small satchels with emergency necessities: a Smith-and-Wesson revolver and a red-pepper spray gun to thwart dangerous highwaymen or wild animals, a compass and map, a few medical supplies, a lantern for night walking, photographs of themselves to sell, and a curling iron for Clara's soft hair.
Even when carrying a little food, their bundles weighed less than eight pounds. Wanting to travel light, neither brought a change of clothes, but Helga packed a notebook and pen to record their experiences, and Clara brought materials for sketching. Perhaps more important, they carried a document from Mayor Belt of their hometown of Spokane, Washington, that introduced Helga as "a lady of good character and reputation" and commending her and her daughter to "the kindly consideration of all persons with whom they may have contact." As vital as a calling card to open doors, this introduction was especially useful with people in politics and the media.
They left Boise grateful for the kind considerations shown to them in Idaho's new capital city. The Idaho Daily Statesman had alerted readers of the mother and daughter's arrival and of their brave quest across America. Unlike a small Washington town whose residents refused to let them buy food or find shelter because people suspected the women were "undeserving vagrants," Boise residents showed respect for their "positive spirits and physical energy." They offered the women opportunities to clean and cook and bought their photographs to restore their depleted funds.
For thirty days, the unaccompanied women had successfully traversed by foot more than 450 miles during the wettest spring in thirty-three years. Having left Spokane on May 5, they followed the rail route south through Washington and Oregon, then trudged east through the spring snows and thaws over the Blue Mountain range, and on through the swollen river waters threatening the Boise valley. There had been only three days without rain since they started, and they arrived in Boise on June 5 with the city in alarm as the raging Boise River reached flood stage. Their journey astonished people, especially that "the women did not seem discouraged."
In truth, it was deep discouragement and near despair that set Helga on this dangerous path to solve her family's desperate financial plight. Since the devastating economic depression of 1893, and her husband's accidents, they simply could not pay the mortgage or taxes on their home and farmland near Spokane. Foreclosure loomed during the spring of 1896, sending Helga into a state of fear compounded by sorrow as she also grieved the loss of her beloved twelve-year-old son, Henry, who had died in January.
When she learned of a $10,000 wager offered by "eastern parties" connected to the fashion industry to a woman who would walk across America, Helga
Describes the exploits and adventures of Helga Estby, who, in 1896, walked across America, from Washington to New York, with her teenage daughter Clara in an effort to save her family's farm. Reprint. 35,000 first printing.
In 1896, a Norwegian immigrant and mother of eight named Helga Estby was behind on taxes and the mortgage when she learned that a mysterious sponsor would pay $10,000 to a woman who walked across America. Hoping to save her family's farm, Helga and her teenaged daughter Clara, armed with little more than a compass, red-pepper spray, a revolver, and Clara's curling iron, set out on foot from Eastern Washington. Their route would pass through 14 states, but they were not allowed to carry more than five dollars each. As they visited Indian reservations, Western boomtowns, remote ranches and local civic leaders, they confronted snowstorms, hunger, thieves and mountain lions. Their journey to New York challenged contemporary notions of femininity and captured the public imagination--but their trip had such devastating consequences that their achievement was blanketed in silence for nearly a century.--From publisher description.
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