Women of the West by Cathy Luchetti

A photo has always been worth a thousand words and that is perhaps no where more pertinent than in the Old West. We have but a few images of some whose names are familiar to all—like Billy the Kid; for others, there is no photo at all to show us real features.

But there is a remarkable and amazing treasure of pictures of ordinary folk. Of children and families and work days and happy days. Several books share these images so we can see for ourselves a moment in time in the westward expansion.

One favorite is by Cathy Luchetti in collaboration with Carol Olwell, entitled Women of the West. It was published in 1982 by W.W. Norton & Co., New York. It not only provides hundreds of amazing photographs, but profiles a dozen women the west should never forget

How we can see these women and their families and their struggles as we spend a rainy afternoon curled up with a book that will give us more insight into the western experience than a dozen tomes could do.

From the introduction: “Their history, too, is recorded in photographs—faded prints of gaunt, sunburned faces peering from the wagon backs, or somberly clad women stirring lye soap over an open fire. The truth of the westward migration stares out, as well, from the speculative, squinting eyes of tow-headed children who spent long days helping their parents in the fields, tying long strings to the corn, then pulling each string over and over again to startle the crows and shake them out. It went without saying that if the crows got fat the children would starve, and these children—with their hard bright eyes and flour-sack shirts—knew it.”

Equally eloquent are the photographs of men and women posed before their soddie houses. Dressed in their Sunday best, their children lined up line ninepins besides them….”

You can look at these pictures for hours, then return another day, and see something missed before. A photo is a forever way to study history.

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