Elinore Pruitt Stewart, Female Homesteader

“I just love to experiment, to work, and to prove out things,” wrote Elinore Pruitt Stewart in 1913. “Ranch life and ‘roughing it’ just suit me.” Elinore was not born into homesteading, but it suited her and she sought it out in her search for independence.

Orphaned in her teenage years, Elinore Pruitt Stewart was accustomed to independence. She found employment as a housekeeper for Mrs. Juliet Coney in Colorado after leaving a failed marriage in Oklahoma. In 1909, Elinore decided to seek a more permanent and reliable life for herself and her daughter, Jerrine. Following the advice of her employer and her priest, Elinore began looking for a position as a housekeeper for a homesteader. She accepted a position from Clyde Stewart and moved west to his property in Burntfork, Wyoming.

That May, she filed for a 160 acre homestead under the Homestead Act on a lot adjacent to Clyde’s. The two married shortly after. She recalled that first summer of work as “the busiest, happiest” she could remember. While the work was hard, it was labor she could “really enjoy.” Over the years, Elinore detailed her life and experiences in Wyoming in letters sent to her friend and previous employer, Mrs. Coney. This collection of letters was later published as a book. It heralded the merits of homesteading as a means for women to provide for themselves. Of women considering the possibility, Elinore wrote, “I feel like urging them every one to get out and file on land… It really requires less strength and labor to raise plenty to satisfy a large family than it does to go out to wash, with the added satisfaction of knowing that their job will not be lost to them if they care to keep it.” She was “very enthusiastic about women homesteading” as a source of autonomy and solution to poverty. In her eagerness for independence and ownership of land, Elinore delayed revealing her new husband to Mrs. Coney until nearly a year after the marriage took place.

Homestead law required that married women file jointly with their husbands or live separately. Elinore had to relinquish her claim to her mother-in-law in 1912 to avoid losing it completely. She and Clyde later bought the property back once the deed had been acquired. Together they had five children, three of whom survived to adulthood. The family wintered in Boulder, Colorado so their children could attend school there. The remaining months were spent on the ranch, gardening, haying, and caring for livestock.

In addition to the hard labor, Elinore’s letters described trips with her children or into the mountains. On one such occasion, “after working so hard and so steadily,” she got away by dawn and had a “glorious day” riding in the hills with Jerrine. The publication of her letters brought some notoriety and time was also spent entertaining visitors who came to meet the confident and optimistic woman homesteader.

Elinore spent her life working and improving the Stewart homestead until her death in 1933. She died of a blood clot to the brain after a surgery following several bouts of serious illness in the years leading to her death. She was buried in Burntfork Pioneer Cemetery, leaving both a historic and a literary legacy that preserves her memory as a successful female homesteader in the American West.

The ranch continued to be operated by Clyde and their sons until it was leased in 1940 and then sold. The site is now included on the National Register of Historic Places. The homestead building still remains at its original site, although in a much dilapidated condition. There are no current plans to preserve or restore it.

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