Eleanor Phillips Brackbill's book The Queen of the Heartbreak Trail is a the story of her great-grandmother Harriet Smith Pullen (1860-1947) who was part of the great migration across America, moving from Wisconsin to North Dakota to Washington, and ending up in Skagway, Alaska.
It was the legend of Harriet Pullen that Brackbill needed to dismantle to find her 'real' great-grandmother. A 1948 radio play, news stories, and books have propagated bits and pieces of her story. Brackbill researched primary and unpublished documents.
Harriet's unvarnished story is remarkable. She stood up to claim busters and fought years-long legal battles. She drove cattle through freezing water and always rode side saddle, wearing a corset. She raised a family and ensured the children went to college while running a business, homesteading and running a ranch. As a single woman separated from her husband Harriet ventured to the Alaska gold fields looking for her next big opportunity. She established and ran the Pullen House for fifty years. Visiting President Harding drank a glass of milk from Harriet's cows.
Her story would be impressive if a man's; her story is amazing for a female who was always the consummate lady. Her own son described her as a 'great woman, splendidly tall, fashioned in the mould of a goddess, magnificently alive, the noblest woman on earth."
The history of the Smith and Pullen families was not without self-inflicted troubles. Their relations with the Quillyute natives was typical of their time. Harriet's brother taught in a school to help the native children 'integrate' into European culture. Harriet and her husband Dan built their mansion on reservation land. The native houses burned down and Dan built on the land. A long drawn court battle found the Pullens at fault and they lost everything. And what did Harriet do? She followed the money, and went north to Alaska, finding work as a cook as she established another business.
Those interested in Alaskan history or the biography of a strong woman will enjoy reading this book.
Illustrated with maps, a family tree, and photographs.
I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair an unbiased review.
The Queen of the Heartbreak Trail
Eleanor Phillips Brackbill
Rowman & Littlefield
Publication April 5, 2016
$24.95 hard cover