Professor Brings to Light Story of an “Almost” Pioneer

Smith HouseThey were almost pioneers.

Now the memoir of Laura Smith, written decades ago as a record of her brief Wyoming homesteading adventure from 1913 to 1916, is being shared with others through the efforts of Dr. John Fry, professor of history.

Fry discovered Smith’s manuscript at the Iowa Women’s Archives in Iowa City while writing his first book, The Farm Press, Reform, and Rural Change, 1895-1920. The book tells the story of Smith and her husband Earle’s experiences homesteading near Chugwater in southeastern Wyoming.

“When Laura Smith sat down to write about her experiences in the West, she was joining a long line of women writers who described the changes necessary to live on the frontier,” said the professor. He said that line of authors includes both Laura Ingalls Wilder and Willa Cather, as well as the more modern Ree Drummond. Fry’s area of specialization is the American West and rural history, and he has previously written about Wilder.

To the memoir, which Smith first titled Almost Pioneers, Fry has added footnotes and an afterword. The footnotes provide background on places and events mentioned in the text. The afterword explains what Smith’s story tells readers about the history of Wyoming, the American West, women writers, and the American experience.

The book, now titled Almost Pioneers: One Couple’s Homesteading Adventure in the West, is due for publication in August 2013 through Globe Pequot Press. It can be pre-ordered on the website or through other major booksellers.

Fry envisions that the audience for the book would include readers interested in true stories of the American West, historical writing by women, early 20th Century history, and stories of American determination and perseverance. He also sees the book as a source for high school or college history courses.

In fact, while working on the project, Fry had students in an Honors course on western women writers and a topics course on the History of the American West read the book. He said the students’ engagement with the book and their suggestions helped him write the notes and the afterword.

The book is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2013, the 100th anniversary of the Smiths’ move to Wyoming.